Posted on 4 Mar '22

Joining Up The Dots – Collaboration To Support Postgraduate Access

As a follow up to our Engaging Postgraduates webinar, we asked Jack Clare, Head of UK Recruitment at the University of Wolverhampton and UK Vice-Chair (Partnerships) at HELOA (Higher Education Liaison Officers Association), to share further insights about the possible benefits of greater collaboration across higher education at a postgraduate level.

My experience of postgraduate access at different institutions is that it is often seen as an afterthought or the forgotten cousin of the family when compared to supporting access to undergraduate provision.

This is no different for collaboration. There is certainly much more that can be done both at an institutional level and sector wide, whether it’s sharing best practice on different approaches or initiatives, all the way to joined-up working on widening access, careers and progression opportunities and pre-entry transition.

Sharing best practice

It may sound simple but networking and talking to each other to share best practice can be the most effective form of collaboration. I remember a 10-minute round table discussion at a HELOA conference on postgraduate recruitment being one of the most useful takeaway sessions.

I soon implemented a way of making it easier for enquirers to speak to their prospective postgraduate academic tutor through a messaging system which sat as a key call to action on our university course pages. Within two months we had set up over 20 tutors across 38 postgraduate courses. Having a network of colleagues, whether within your institution or externally, can really help you to develop your initiatives further.

Widening participation

I think there is room for more in-depth collaboration on access and widening participation to engage prospective students. As a Sutton Trust report released in June 2021 highlighted, whilst postgraduate loans have done a lot to improve access, postgraduate fees are unregulated and between 2011 and 2020 rose by 98% at Russell Group universities. This creates one of many barriers for disadvantaged students.

Postgraduate access can sometimes get lost in Access and Participation Plans and it’s critical that there is cross-sector collaboration, not just cross-institution, to address this. I think there is work to be done across the sector on bringing institutions together to support in widening access to postgraduate study, whether it’s working groups, forums or practical sessions for stakeholders to be involved in. Neon has developed a PG working group and HELOA hosts multiple events throughout the cycle which create a space for sharing best practice and often tie into postgraduate-level recruitment.

Careers and progression

From a careers perspective, the NSS call to arms re-emerged again in the new year and as part of the learning community and experience arm of this, from level 4 onwards, postgraduate study opportunities need to be embedded into employability and careers modules as an option for future progression. This should not be limited to progression internally or one-off talks but requires collaboration to showcase future opportunities beyond graduation including taster lectures, masterclasses, mentoring, trial modules and cross-university initiatives.

If postgraduate study for certain routes is not offered at a current university of study, it still needs to be promoted as a viable post-undergraduate study option. Universities need to work together to share opportunities regionally and in similar subject routes to help support postgraduate access. It’s a good idea here to link up with your careers and employability team to latch onto pre-existing careers events, activities and potential mentoring opportunities. It’s also worth touching base with academic colleagues to explore the possibility of trialling out some taster lectures and trial modules for current undergraduates in a set number of course areas.

Pre-entry transition

Often we look at the transition from level 3 to level 4 study as the biggest challenge that new students face when entering higher education. However, there is a real challenge with the progression from undergraduate to postgraduate study, with a broad range of incoming students including those returning to learning, balancing study with work, as well as commencing study straight from an undergraduate programme.

It’s important that we offer support for incoming postgraduate students tailored to whether they are new or progressing internally. Can we create applicant community groups, tailored events and activities and learning resources and materials to help support these students? These are all things we have tried to tailor within our GetSet transition hub at the University of Wolverhampton, but there is always more work to do and I know that, across the sector, universities have been working hard to try and support the transition of incoming learners.

If anyone has any thoughts, questions or comments on any of the above, I’m always interested to hear from others across the sector and to collaborate! So please do get in touch: [email protected]

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