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Democracy

Postgraduate Officer:
Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson is the SU's Postgraduate Officer.

Blog

  • Mon 06 Jul 2015 13:53

    Last Friday I attended a conference that looked at the findings of the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) Postgraduate Support Scheme, which students at Warwick and five other Universities trialled this past academic year for Postgraduate Taught students. My predecessor, Lucy Gill, and I have previously written blogs on the PSS as it exists at Warwick.

    The consortium of Universities involved in this project, as well as HEFCE and other groups, have learnt a lot from the PSS with regard to individual motivations, and it was very interesting to hear about the different routes students tend to go through to access postgraduate study. The main thing that I took from the conference, however (and I hope that everyone else in attendance took away as well), was just how transformative this scheme has been for those students who have were awarded scholarships.

    Students from low socio-economic backgrounds, single parents and people with disabilities have benefitted immeasurably from the PSS; it has provided an opportunity for people who would never have progressed into postgraduate education to do so. This scheme has undoubtedly widened participation.

    The reason that the scheme has been a success is that this financial support has provided the opportunity for students to fully engage with their studies - which has, in turn, allowed them to see that Universities are indeed also there for people like them. Universities can be transformative, and hearing all the hope and aspirations that the students who received these scholarships gained was truly heart-warming.

    There are some lessons to be learned from the scheme, however. Whilst £10,000 isa undoubtedly a significant contribution, it is often not enough to pay for tuition fees and living costs - particularly when you consider that the standard Masters fee (i.e. the minimum amount for a Full-Time degree) at Warwick next year will be £7400. Adding in factors such as being a single parent or having additional dependents means that without a contribution which covers living costs it becomes very difficult to make the most of this opportunity. Many of the beneficiaries of the PSS scheme have been over the age of 30, and it has meant so much to them to have this opportunity.

    The PSS scheme has been rolled out nationwide for the next academic year, with HEFCE putting £50 million into the scholarships and institutions having to match-fund that. However, this is a one-year scheme only, and it is unlikely that HEFCE will have the money for any such contribution in the future. Indeed, while postgraduate loans are expected to be in place for the 2016/17 academic year, the initial proposals for these suggest that they will only be up to £10,000 and available to those under 30 – both of which would prevent the sort of widening participation that the PSS scheme has emphasised are sorely needed.

    The PSS scheme has been a success, and the consortium will be publishing more details about it in coming months. It has highlighted the need for a wide-reaching scholarship scheme, by reiterating the success it can bring to people who traditionally would not go into postgraduate study as a result of various different barriers. If HEFCE are unable to help provide such scholarships in the future, then institutions need to take a close look at what they can do to help widen participation at postgraduate level – given that  this has already proven to make a difference here at Warwick, I would sincerely hope that our University management are proactively looking at how they could fund something similar for PG students starting in September 2016.

  • Thu 23 Apr 2015 14:08

    The Top 10 UK Universities have a staggering fifty-four 24-Hour Libraries between them which operate all-year-round. At Warwick, we only have one – and that’s just in Term 3. In fact, out of the Top 10 English Unis, we are the only one not to have a year-round 24-Hour Library.

    In Term 2, I proposed a motion to the All Student Meeting for the University to keep the Library open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, throughout the entire year. Warwick students voted by the largest majority at any ASM in favour of the motion, so I’m pleased to say this is where the hard work really begins! While some concern was raised that extra pressure might be put on students to study longer, I feel that this will actually help in that you will be given more flexibility as to when you can study - meaning less pressure, and more resources available at a much later time in a central campus location that’s much more accessible (and more appropriate!) than University House. With the wins we’ve already had this year on campus lighting, a 24-Hour Library on central campus would be a welcome addition for those looking to study outside of course hour.

    Currently, the Library is only open 24 hours a day for part of Term 3 – this is admittedly a great resource during exam season, but doesn’t take into account Postgraduates (who are here all year round) or those of you who have exams and essays outside of those few weeks in Term 3.

    We know that it is definitely possible to put on a 24-Hour service, since we see that already in Term 3 – we just need to show that the demand is there all year round and put a strong case forward to the University. To make this possible and kick off the campaign, we're looking for your feedback on how a 24 Hour Library would benefit you in your course and your time at Warwick.

    This is a campaign I feel extremely passionate about and want to lay the foundations for, as it’s something that will benefit not only Postgraduates, but all Warwick Students!

    How can you get involved?

    Firstly, you can tell me what you think on this short form:

    http://www.warwicksu.com/campaigns/24hrlibrary/

    This feedback will be used in the overall ‘Case For’ Report that we’ll be sending to the University, and I want to hear from as many students as possible. So many of you have already found our form and let us know your thoughts, which is great - all the information we receive will help us to get there.

    Secondly, we need to feature several case studies in the report, which look into your Warwick experience, your course and how a 24 hour Library would benefit you specifically.

    If you’d be able to be a case study, please come to one of the two Focus Groups I’ve organised for next week. Just turn up to one of the following:

    Monday 27th April, 4.00pm – 5.00pm in MR6 (Meeting Room 6), SUHQ

    Tuesday 28th April, 1.00pm – 2.00pm in Central Meeting Area, SUHQ

     

  • Thu 16 Apr 2015 13:54

    Over the past 18 months, the SU have been vocal and critical about how the University treats postgraduates who teach, feeding in all of the concerns that our PGs who teach raise. These include a lack of fairness in how some people do not get the opportunity to even apply for roles within their department, a lack of any training or recognition in any kind from the University on the development that PGs who teach undergo, the lack of transparency in terms of what is being expected of postgraduates for the pay they receive, and the low-levels of pay that postgraduates receive for the work they do.

    The current system that the University has been using to employ postgraduates who teach is not transparent, it is not consistent across departments, and there are so many opportunities within it for postgraduates to be taken advantage of in a whole manner of aspects from hours they are pressurised to work, to being paid an absolute pittance in some departments. At the moment departments inform HR who they want and for how many hours they should be paid, with the University not able to have much oversight on whether postgraduates are being treated fairly; some departments do not follow national pay scales or allow for preparation time in their pay. This is not fair.

    A lot has been written on social media and in the press about TeachHigher, which the University claims would ease some of the arbitrary practices highlighted above. Rightly, members of the SU have been concerned what this new organisation is and how it would impact on working conditions and the quality of teaching. The University has failed in its duty to keep our members properly informed and this has led to confusion and uncertainty.

    This week I finally got the chance to sit down with HR and TeachHigher to raise many of the concerns that have been aired by our postgraduates who teach here at Warwick. I have managed to get verbal clarification, and we are seeking it in writing, on the following:-

     

    ·      TeachHigher is to be an Academic Services Department, which is part of the University and will come under Registrar Ken Sloan. TeachHigher will not be separate from the University.

    ·      PGs who teach will be on National pay scales. Postgraduates register online on the TeachHigher website, sign a temporary worker agreement, and then they sign an assignment agreement for each assignment they do, allowing complete transparency for postgraduates what they are going to be paid for, with preparation time to be included by departments in the assignment agreement. These assignment agreements will be for a set number of hours over a set period of time (for example, over two academic terms); the agreement will have a total number of hours which are broken down into hours of teaching, hours of preparation, and time for any other activity that it is agreed postgraduates who teach should be paid. The SU disagrees with the university that these assignments agreements or “Agreements of Engagements” will not be contracts of employment.

    ·      PGs who have had existing agreements, and who will be continuing to work in those TeachHigher pilots, will be assessed on an individual basis by HR to see if they should continue with their present arrangements, be signed up to TeachHigher, or move on to a regular contract.

    ·      Everyone that is employed through TeachHigher will also have access to funded Continuing Professional Development (CPD), exactly what form this takes is under review as they survey what sort of CPD to offer, but it is going to be tailored to all individuals.

    ·      PGs will have the right to join trade unions and take part in legitimate industrial action, along with permanent staff.

    ·      In terms of TeachHigher actually being in action, it is going to be piloted over the 2015-2016 Academic Year in seven different departments across the University. The University is going to set up a monitoring group to review and monitor the department, and we have made sure that the SU Postgraduate Officer, and a postgraduate who teaches from each of the pilot departments involved will be on that group, alongside TeachHigher, HR and representatives from the departments.

    ·      The Temporary Worker agreement which was on the TeachHigher website is currently being reviewed and rewritten. I have highlighted particularly our concerns over the inclusion of a clause terminating any assignment without notice, and the lack of any mention of the promised CPD.

    ·      I also raised the concerns that students have raised with regards to the issue of TeachHigher being a franchise. The University have said that they may put out the TeachHigher name and the system for franchise, but only if the pilot is successful.

     

    The SU will closely monitor TeachHigher to ensure that conditions offered are as promised and that they will be consistently implemented across the piloted departments. 

    Whilst satisfied that this is not outsourcing, or the formation of a subsidiary, the SU are concerned that this is a continuation of casualisation. The SU agrees with the UCU that PGs who teach should be directly employed by the University, and subject to the same terms and conditions. The SU accepts that TeachHigher does not address this issue of casualisation, but is an opportunity to achieve greater consistency and fairness across the University. The SU will continue to strive for greater transparency, contracts and the protection of pay & conditions for all our members.

    Please feel free to contact me at postgrads@warwicksu.com on this or any other issue that concerns you. 

  • Fri 13 Mar 2015 14:20

    Throughout our time at University, there are many people who make a difference to your journey –how do you thank those people? We’re talking about those who are excellent at teaching you and those that have given you great support in learning during your time at Warwick - the people that make you enjoy learning and want to go to their classes or provide you with interesting discussions.

    The answer is simple - nominate them for a Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence (WATE)!

    Many of you will have postgraduates who teach you. Many of those postgraduates put so many extra hours into making sure that your seminars, lectures, lab demonstrations and project supervision are the best they can be, both before and after the classes and contact hours - and these are often hours that they are not fairly paid for putting in. Now is your chance to recognise how much of a difference they make to your individual Warwick experience and the entire Warwick community as a whole. If you are an undergraduate who has a great postgraduate teacher, I implore you to nominate them for a WATE PGR.

    Each winner will receive £500, and each Commendee £200, while every single nominee will receive a congratulatory letter from Jan Palmowski, the Pro-Vice Chancellor. The deadline for you to nominate someone for a WATE is 25th March - this can be done either by completing an online form which should be emailed to watepgr@warwick.ac.uk, or printing and submitting a Word document to the Learning Development Centre on the first floor of Senate House.

    It will take literally 5 minutes and can make a real difference to those PGs that teach you!

  • Tue 03 Mar 2015 12:02

    For 2015-16 only, the University has launched 125 awards of £10,000 for Taught Masters students, representing over £1.2million of scholarships in total. These scholarships will be available to Home/EU students from under-represented groups who wish to move from an Undergraduate course (for which they were charged the higher tuition fees which began in 2012-13) to a taught Masters course starting in 2015-16.

    From 2016/17, Postgraduate loans, announced in the Chancellor’s Budget in December, will be introduced for Taught Masters courses to students under the age of 30 in England. We don’t yet know all the details of this scheme, but I wrote a blog about the introduction of Postgraduate loans back in January which you can view here.

    While it is perhaps worth noting that these scholarships represent only a first step to widening participation in a much broader context (in that the scheme primarily benefits those able to get into Russell Group institutions in the first instance), they are undoubtedly fantastic news, and demonstrate that the Union is working hard with the University to make sure that this money reaches the students who need it most. These bursaries will be means-tested, and thus not available to everyone - their intention is to help widen Masters participation to students from lower-income backgrounds, while providing funding for who perhaps would not traditionally go onto postgraduate study.

    _____________________________________________________________

    So, supposing you’re awarded one of the £10,000 bursaries, what will that cover?

    For standard fee courses, the scholarship will cover the full cost of 2015-16 tuition fees with a £2,600 bursary for course-related costs. Standard fees for Taught Masters courses for 2015-16 are £7,400.

    For non-standard fee courses, the scholarship will be a contribution towards your tuition fees in the first instance. After the fees have been met, any remaining portion will be paid to you as a bursary.

    To download a table detailing all the postgraduate tuition fee bands, click here.

    _____________________________________________________________

    The University has published a list of eligibility criteria for the scholarships in two parts, and these are as follows:

    Part One

    * Did you start your first undergraduate degree at a UK university in 2012/13?

    * Are your tuition fees between £6,000 and £9,000 per year?

    * Are you graduating in 2014/15?

    * Are you applying for a full-time Masters course, or a part-time Masters course that will be studied over a maximum of 2 years, starting in October 2015?

    * Are you eligible to pay tuition fees at the Home/EU rate?

    * Can you confirm that you do not already hold a Masters or PhD qualification?

    If you have answered yes to all the above questions, you are eligible to move onto section two. If not, you are not eligible to receive the scholarship.

    Part Two

    You must be able to answer yes to at least one of these questions:

    * Are you in receipt of maintenance grant support from the UK government for your undergraduate course?

    * Are you in receipt of special support grant support from the UK government for your undergraduate course?

    * Are you currently in receipt of Disabled Students Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment?

    If you are unable to answer yes to any of these questions, you are not eligible for the scheme.

    (Please note that maintenance grant support is different to a maintenance loan. If in doubt as to whether you’re in receipt of a maintenance grant, check your Student Finance account here)

    _____________________________________________________________


    The application deadline for this scheme is Tuesday 31st March at 5pm. You can find more information and apply by clicking here

Contact Me

Andrew's office is on the 2nd floor of SUHQ.

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The election for Postgraduate Officer takes place during the Officer Elections in Term 2.

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