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Postgraduate students struggle to complete degrees amidst Covid-19 pandemic

By Zoe Kramer

Many Cardiff University students are experiencing difficulties completing their academic coursework due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however postgraduate students in particular are facing a unique set of challenges.

PGR student Rachel Philips spoke to Gair Rhydd, saying “the UKRI announced that there would be an extra six months of funding available to students in their final six months of study, however this doesn’t account for the problems that first and second year students are facing. It’s a welcome gesture, but it seems strange as final year students already have their data and are generally writing up – but many first and second year students are looking at completely changing their research focus as a result of the crisis, and many can’t continue their data collection because of the pandemic.”

A Cardiff University spokesperson responded to this concern, saying, “We have asked that all supervisors work closely with their supervisees to revise research plans to take in to account any impacts of Covid-19.  We have also asked the supervisors to keep in regular contact with their PGRs to ensure ongoing support and advice is provided allowing students to progress alternative research plans.

“For instance, where PGRs cannot undertake live data gathering, we have encouraged a focus on other key parts of postgraduate study, including literature reading and reviews, training and new skills acquisition via online resources and writing up of research and / or chapters. Where access to physical library holdings have been required, students may have been able to change to the use of digital resources.”

Philips also emphasized one of the key issues being a lack of communication: “What I’ve seen so far from people who’ve talked to me is that communication varies wildly between different departments, even when they’re in the same college. There’s been little communication about our upcoming Annual Reviews (which for most, fall in May) and in some cases, conflicting information about deadlines.”

The Cardiff University spokesperson responded, “It is important that the Annual Review of each postgraduate student (progress monitoring) goes ahead this year.

“Most eligible PGRs will already have been informed that this is the case by their individual Schools, as well as via emails from SIMS. We revised the Annual Review forms across the University this year, with the aim of ensuring that every PGR receives the same level of support through the review process during this challenging time. As part of these revised forms, PhD students can report on the impact of Covid-19 on their studies so that supervisors and Schools can offer tailored assistance.

“In order to account for the disruption to PGR study over the last few weeks, most Schools have asked PhD students to provide a shorter writing sample than usual. The usual expectations around reflection, review and feedback will, however, continue to be an important part of PGRs’ work, ensuring positive and supportive discussion with supervisors.”

Philips also discussed how many PGR students feel they are not being afforded equal treatment to other students. “Many of us feel completely overlooked in this entire crisis, in communications from the Student’s Union and the University itself. The document about the no-detriment policy didn’t even mention PGR students.”

The Cardiff University spokesperson responded, “The Safety Net Policy is explicitly written for students on taught programmes. The principle that ‘no student should be disadvantaged in terms of their achievement as a result of the coronavirus pandemic’, is no less relevant to PGRs. We have already permitted several changes for the submission of theses and the arrangements of vivas, and will continue to work with Schools, PGR Reps and the wider sector to further think through the concept of ‘no detriment’ as it applies to Postgraduate Researchers.

“The information that we gather via PGR Annual Reviews relating to the impact of Covid-19 will also help us understand better how the situation has affected our PGRs, and what support we need to develop over the coming years to ensure that all postgraduate research students are given every opportunity to succeed in the light of any potential impacts of Covid-19.”

 

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