Over the past 24 hours I have been at the NUS Postgraduate conference in Milton Keynes.
As I haven't been to a 'sections' conference before it was quite scary rocking up to the venue and not knowing what to expect. After receiving my agenda, motions pack and NUS committee reports I was set to get stuck in on shaping the postgraduate agenda.
The conference began with an introduction to new delegates by DPC Democratic Proceedures Committee then we went round the room to say who we were, what position we hold and what our universities and unions have done for Postgraduates and what we think NUS could do to help. This was a great opportunity to hear best practise in the sector. There have been some great campaigns by Student Unions' on postgraduate issues.
The workshops I attended at conference were: Taking Forward PG funding and Postgraduates driving a new economy.
The first workshop was more of a round table discussion, evaluating the progress NUS have made since launching the proposals for a PGT funding system. I brought up the new research that was release that morning by HIgher Education Academy on the inequalities in progression to higher education. Identifying that graduates from lower socio-economic backgrounds were under-represented among those progressing to higher education. This struck a nerve with me as I have been doing a lot of work on ensuring our institution truly provide fair access to education on the undergraduate level as required by Offa under Access Agreements. I find it ridiculous that there is no comparative support, outreach or widening participation initiatives for those wanting to go into postgraduate study.
The second workshop asked us to think about a number of questions, think of a special moment in your experience at university. Not being a postgraduate myself I reflected on my time as an undergraduate. It wasn't the moment when I got my 1st that first came to mind, it was the extra-curricular activities I got involved in that filled my mind with special moments, setting up the Rep Society, holding a Rep Conference and winning NUS Rep of the Year (2011) amongst other things. Then we had to think about barriers to education, there was discussion around disposable income, time in the respect hat there isn't enough time in the day to do everything but also the time education takes out of our lives. For me it was the actual decision of quitting my job to come to uni, to give up a salary to live off a student loan.
Postgraduates are exceptional individuals, they are a valuable resource for society and champions of change. But there are often questions of the value of postgraduates. Sometimes there are views that it is unjust and a waste on society but there is great social advantage for postgraduates. Sometimes it feels necessary to make arguments to articulate to society the value of postgraduates and get postgraduates to help shape and transform the society.
We then discussed what, if any are personal characteristics of postgraduates which definitely brought up heated debate. With very few undergraduates present at the conference, this topic had danger of making postgraduates appear elitist.
After workshops we went onto developing policy for the Postgraduate committee. I was particularly keen to get policy created to support Students' Unions in representing postgraduates effectively. There needs to be more practical resources for Officers and support staff in unions to engage with Postgraduates as the majority of the time are undergraduate students and these by and large don't have any experience with postgraduate issues.
PG1 policy - Postgraduate Pay and Conditions identifies that NUS Living Wage Policy does not include postgraduates and this is not right. We felt that SUs should lobby their institutions to implement a living wage policy for their postgraduate students. Ultimately, these students teach and should be paid a fair wage to do so.
I wrote policy with Murray from SUBU Bournemouth on fair access to PG study. This outlined that OFFA does not include access to PG study in their fair access agreements and we believe this should happen. It identified that students are restricted by a glass ceiling effect of fees. We feel that NUS should provide support on grass root level campaigns to engage both Students' Unions and their students to actively campaign for fair access to PG. (PG10)
i also contributed to the development of the PG14 "building a postgraduate officers knowledge network" which will require NUS to create Virtual Information Sharing Space (VISS) to facilitate the sharing of knowledge of best (and worst) practice within institutions. It also requires NUS to help SUs to develop postgraduate research and taught representation. We feel that NUS should support SUs to develop ways to be more relevant in activities for postgraduates.
The second day we had the elections. I ran to be the ex-officio position on the Postgraduate committee. This position is open to anyone not a PGT or PGR&T student. I ran because I wanted to give a different perspective to the committee, the perspective of a union that hasn't engaged well with their PG students but wants to (we aren't the only ones judging by the lack of officers at this conference) but also because I want to contribute as someone who eventually wants to go into postgraduate education. We had 1 minute to give a speech. I was against 3 candidates and after a painstaking hour wait, I found. out that I had been elected.
The final part of the day was to debate the policy we had written the day before, I spoke on our PG10 policy and we are very happy that it got passed. In act, all policies at PG conference were passed.
All in all Postgaduate conference was by far one of the best conference I have been to. So much debate and in-depth discussion which was great! The atmosphere was brilliant, welcoming and supportive and I cannot wait to start my year on the PG committee.
If you have any questions about the pg conference or want to discuss plans for further campaigns please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org