Over the summer, I wrote a blog encouraging masters students to fill in our survey about the support they'd received with their dissertations. We were hearing about inconsistent deadline dates and variation in supervision hours among other concerns, so launched this piece of research to gain a comprehensive picture of what PGT students were experiencing.
A grand total of 128 of you responded to our survey from across 19 different schools. It can be really difficult to make change for masters students, as the majority of you are only here for a year and giving feedback can often seem pointless. To all of you who took the time to fill out our survey, you are responsible for the improving the experience of future students and I cannot thank you enough.
The results of this research have been compiled and analysed, leading to a number of recommendations that we're putting to the University. You can read the full report here, but for now I'll outline some of the main issues that have been highlighted.
The overall findings of the research demonstrate that the experience of PGT students at UEA is hugely varied – particularly in terms of support and communication. At uea(su) we'd like all PGT students, regardless of their course, school or faculty, to have a fair and consistent experience and have access to reliable information and advice.
It has become apparent that the ability of masters students to succeed in the their dissertation is dependant on a lottery system of support within the university: a system where some students are disadvantaged purely because of the school or course in which they are enrolled.
The word 'variation' crops up frequently in the report. Another major concern raised was discrepancies between the advertised course end dates and actual submission dates for dissertations. Over 75% of students in our survey experienced some kind of difference between advertised end date and dissertation hand in date – with over half of these inconsistencies being of 3 weeks or more. This caused students problems with employment and accommodation, particularly those accommodated on UEA campus who were unable to stay in UEA accommodation past September 1st , when many submission dates go well into September or even October. These types of issues are avoidable and just put extra unnecessary stress on students on top of the academic pressure of writing a dissertation. A shocking 55% of respondents did not hear about their dissertation deadline until 3 months into their course, despite these courses having been run before and timelines established.
To solve this issue we'd like UEA to undertake a review of all PGT programmes' advertised end dates and actual submission dates and review any information given to students to ensure transparency. We'd like UEA to ensure consistency in submission dates and review accommodation provisions available to PGT students to ensure the contract end date matches the student's hand in date.
The time in which students are allowed to research and write their dissertations also varies greatly. Not between schools, but actually between courses within the same school. It is only logical that one student should not have 2 months to write a 15,000 word dissertation when another has 4 months to write 10,000 words. We must make it clear, the majority of this variation does not come down to the specific needs of schools and their underpinning pedagogy. The majority of this comes down to poor organisation and management of masters courses across the piste.
The support students received before and during the completion of their dissertation is another area where major inconsistencies both within and between schools have been revealed. This means that some students are at a stark disadvantage in comparison to others, particularly in terms of supervisory access and support. Some of our respondents saw supervision hours capped, while others had formal supervision cut off in July, leaving six weeks of their dissertation period with no supervision. There are several recommendations to improve and standardise the supervision process within the report – including providing secondary supervisors and ensuring there is no cut-off point for supervision.
uea(su) are keen to work with UEA to bring forwards the recommendations highlighted in this report and do what we can to bring them to fruition. The university Learning and Teaching Service have been taking the results of the report seriously and we continue to work with them on this issue. If you've come across any issues with masters dissertations that haven't been mentioned in the report, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.