28% of UCL’s Masters and PhD students are part-time, citing reasons from funding availability to fitting study around work or family commitments. It’s a distinct way to be a student with its own benefits and difficulties. Unfortunately some of the latter have been overlooked, but through the Postgraduate Association part-time postgrads are organising for action. In Spring 2012, we used a survey to find out more about the challenges facing the community, and produced a report detailing the results and a number of recommendations. Since then, we have been campaigning for change and are beginning to achieve improvements.

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Fair student discounts on public transport and Council Tax

Students registered as part-time are currently denied the student discounts on public transport and Council Tax that are available to full-time students, despite being more likely to be self-funding, and even though virtually all part-time postgraduate students spend more time on academic work than a “full-time” course is required to cover to qualify.

This injustice exacerbates the financial difficulties already faced by many students (see below), and survey respondents described how the cost of travel even restricted their ability to attend all their lectures or access resources such as the library.

In 2012, we asked candidates in the London elections to pledge to tackle this and extend discounts to part-time postgraduates. 3 pledging candidates were elected to the London Assembly; however when they raised the issue on our behalf, Mayor Boris Johnson rejected our call, incorrectly claiming that part-time students were generally financially secure and did not need this assistance.

The PGA has therefore set about gathering evidence from across London. Together with London Higher (representing universities across the city) and the London Union of Students and University of London Union (representing students), we are now preparing to take our reinforced case back to the Greater London Authority. Watch this space for more news and action you can take.

Decent funding for all

Funding for postgraduate study has long been insufficient to meet the demand from qualified prospective students, and in recent years budget cuts have only made the situation worse. A substantial proportion of students are pushed into the part-time route and a financially difficult situation simply because there is not funding available that would allow them to devote themselves to full-time study. Over a fifth of part-time PhDs reported struggling financially and about a fifth had considered leaving due to funding difficulties.

These students are valuable and capable members of our academic community. Research students are workers: UCL benefits from the cutting-edge research they produce, yet they are left not only to support themselves and their families but to pay (often extortionate) fees for the privilege. Moreover these fees often rise mid-course without warning or predictability. With nearly half of part-time PhD students reliant on private saving or family support, it is clear that chronic underfunding means limiting access to those students who can afford to pay.

Our survey showed widespread dissatisfaction with the levels of information, advice and guidance provided to students seeking studentship funding. Engaging with UCL Graduate School, we have now secured it as every UCL PhD student’s right to receive help from their supervisor in finding and securing necessary funding throughout their studies. This was introduced to the Research Degrees Code of Practice 2013-14 (p.4).

The Postgraduate Association continues to demand the allocation of more studentship funding within UCL and the capping and reduction of fees. We are also launching a campaign to end the practice whereby UCL raises part- and full-time students’ fees unpredictably part-way through degree programmes: click [here] for more information and to get involved. Nationally, we work with the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts for free education and a system of universal grants. We have been part of the recent and ongoing push to secure a full funding system to support students at a Masters level. More information about UCLU’s involvement in broader funding campaigns will be posted soon.


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