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Postgraduate experience survey

Citation

Crawford, J and Probert, D, Postgraduate experience survey, Tasmania University Union Postgraduate Council, Report Number 2, Australia, August (2017) [Government or Industry Research]


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Abstract

This report documents a study conducted with 327 postgraduates from the University of Tasmania. Those engaged throughout responded to questions relating to their postgraduate experience, conflict, and their likelihood of recommending the University of Tasmania to others. This research was led by Joey Crawford, Postgraduate President, with support from Dan Probert, Campus President North, of the Tasmania University Union (TUU). To summarise the data contained within this document is an exceptionally complex undertaking, given that there are so many facets to the postgraduate experience. Many good, and many less so. The largest positive contributors to student experience were feelings of excitement, fulfilment, networking with peers, supervisors who tried to understand candidates, and induction processes. Yet, despite these indications, it was clear that many of these contributors to student experience were not being undertaken across the university successfully, with particular consideration to inductions as frequently occurring on the ‘top 5’ and ‘bottom 5’ across faculties and campuses. In relation to negative contributors to student experience, the largest contributors were personally experiencing (or witnessing/hearing) inappropriate behaviour from authority figures in the University. Within the sample, 19 students (7.73%) expressed frequently or very frequently experiencing inappropriate behaviour from an authority figure in the University, with 18.29% stating this happens occasionally. Other negative contributors include fears that students will not graduate, that personal circumstances will not improve past graduation, financial circumstances, time pressures, and reduced time spent with family. Many of these strongest correlators were within the top five for faculties and campuses. An industry-tool (Net Promoter Score) was also used during the study to capture the likelihood of students positively promoting or deterring prospective future students. This tool ranges from +100 (indicating all individuals will promote the University) to -100 (indicating that students will actively detract others from the University). The University of Tasmania received a score of -28, compared to the Education Industry average of +40 in 2017 (n = 115,575). This should serve as a significant indicator of the current perception of postgraduate students within the University. Using the support of an external consultant, this report provides a number of recommendations to address some of these alarming statistics. These begin with building on the positive aspects such asfostering excitement and fulfilment, fostering community and networks, increasing faculty inclusion, encouraging peer groups, developing stronger industry networks, and training supervisors. The second strategy includes addressing the negatives, such as dealing with discomforting and inappropriate behaviour, and understanding the root of negative behaviours. The third strategy includes providing better training and development ranging from wellbeing programs, to workshops and services, and strong time management support. Finally, these recommendations conclude with discussing what the TUU can do better, and how the recommendations apply at the faculty level as well as the campus levels. To focus more on the TUU, currently it seems clear that the TUU is not effective at engaging with postgraduates. While a few respondents indicated satisfaction with the TUU, as many expressed dissatisfaction with having to pay for a service which they deem fails to offer them value. Most respondents sat in the middle of these two extremes; generally unsure of what exactly the TUU does, what its scope and responsibilities are, and/ or how it might serve and support them through their postgraduate experience. There is a resounding sense that TUU focuses on undergraduates, and more tailored communication and engagement practices are recommended to rectify this. There is scope for the TUU to invest more in inductions with postgraduates. This would be a natural opportunity to communicate how the Union may support andadvocate for candidates throughout their study. To outline the key outcomes as they relate to the University, bureaucracy seems a common hiccup in the postgraduate experience. There seems to be some confusion and angst around who provides which services and requires what from postgraduates. More streamlined policies and procedures (award of scholarship, conference funding, mandatory course work (e.g. Grad Cert in Research), allocation of teaching/tutoring load, skills acquisition, advocacy, requirements of the Graduate Research Office {GRO}, etc.) would improve the postgraduate experience. Candidates indicate some issues with supervisors. Supervisory relationships are essential to completion, and support in developing and maintaining effective, respectful relationships is a primary recommendation. There is also scope to provide more in the way of mental health and wellbeing programs and support. It is promising that most respondents indicated they had not witnessed nor experienced inappropriate behaviour, but the small number who do experience inappropriate behaviour warrant support, and the investigation and resolution of their issues. Many candidates experienced negative emotions such as doubt, fear, and isolation; however most candidates also experienced positive emotions associated with their study. A good wellbeing program or suite of services could capitalise on these positive emotions, and help alleviate the negative. There is plenty of scope for the TUU to better engage with postgraduates. University procedures could benefit from refinement, and increased support in skills acquisition and health and wellbeing would stand to enhance the postgraduate student experience. However, survey responses indicate that, in general, most postgraduate students are managing their studies acceptably. That said, there are also many opportunities to help these students flourish. The authors of this report hope that whilst there are some exceptionally problematic statistics in this report, the focus should be on solving these challenges rather than continuing to perpetuate the cycle and lay blame on various extraneous influences.

Item Details

Item Type:Government or Industry Research
Keywords:postgraduate, well-being, student experience, quantitative, doctoral candidate, PhD
Research Division:Education
Research Group:Education systems
Research Field:Higher education
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in commerce, management, tourism and services
UTAS Author:Crawford, J (Dr Joseph Crawford)
UTAS Author:Probert, D (Mr Dan Probert)
ID Code:133185
Year Published:2017
Deposited By:TSBE
Deposited On:2019-06-18
Last Modified:2019-06-18
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