1. Postgraduate student representation, support and welfare at Keele University
Our full-time sabbatical officers continued to attend a wide range of university committee meetings, where they were able to raise any concerns to the senior leadership team surrounding postgraduate education, wellbeing, and community.
Throughout the year, the Association were able to support students with a number of pressing issues; particularly mental health and wellbeing provision, the movement from online to in-person activities and teaching and the war in Ukraine.
This year, our officer’s focused heavily on increasing awareness of mental health and wellbeing on campus and online, due to the lasting effects of the pandemic. During lockdown, we moved our mental health initiatives online, including virtual yoga sessions, mindfulness workshops, craft sessions and coffee mornings. This enabled our students to maintain a sense of community, put in place coping mechanisms for isolation and through study. We continued these events throughout the academic year and moved some of them back face-to-face such as our coffee mornings.
Our officers have also worked closely with the Keele SU Officers to create a Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy, alongside the University, to ensure all students are able to access the information and support they need from the services that are offered at Keele. We have ensured that postgraduates will be recognised within this strategy and will be able to access the support they need.
In February 2022 Russia launched a full-scale assault on Ukraine. At Keele we had/have many international students from Ukraine who were scared, alone and left vulnerable, along with students from Russia who found themselves scapegoated, isolated and with no access to funds. At the KPA we became heavily involved in supporting these students and representing them at meetings throughout the university to guide the support plans in place and providing an all-important listening and empathetic ear.
We have also represented postgraduate students on many other issues. One of our officers worked in conjunction with the university on the Whalley’s Quarry Landfill dispute, ensured that it was kept on the university’s agenda and acted as a ‘witness’ which involved write a statement about the impact of landfill site on postgraduate students at Keele (this was then sent to the local council). We held an Emergency General Meeting on Tuesday 30th November in response to announced strike action from the UCU. This was a forum where postgrads could ask questions regarding the strikes and receive support with any concerns they were facing regarding the industrial action by UCU. The officer team continued to meet with senior management within the University, and with UCU, to understand the situation and represent postgraduate student issues and concerns.
We have also undertaken a lot of casework on behalf of individual postgraduates, ensuring they have access to the correct funding, signposting them to the correct people, and ensuring that their voices are heard across the university.
KPA Bursary applications and awards have also increased significantly in this academic year, as conferences and face-to-face training courses have started up again, postgraduates have been able to use the Bursary scheme to fund their participation. Throughout the 2021/22 academic year, we had many applications to our KPA Bursary fund from a range of PGT and PGR students looking to engage in extra-curricular activities. We received significant positive feedback from recipients of the Bursary, who had used their allocated sum to attend workshops and conferences relevant to their study. The total amount awarded in KPA bursaries this year was £11,747.
2. Providing accessible events and entertainment for postgraduate students at Keele University
The KPA has been committed to running a wide range of activities and events for the postgraduate community, both in-person and online.
During lockdown periods, the KPA held a range on online events for students including cheese and wine evenings, pyjama parties, craft events, mindfulness workshops, drop-in sessions with the KPA Committee and staff (among many others!). Our online events were well received by our student body and in particular our international, commuter, and vulnerable (shielding)/ self-isolating students.
This was especially important when we faced the Omicron variant in November 2021, when restrictions were once again tightened and universities across the country found themselves in a situation that due to isolation rules many of their students had to remain on campus here over the festive period. The KPA Clubhouse was also asked by the University to provide catering to all students remaining on campus over the Christmas period 2021. This included anyone self-isolating due to Covid-19, which meant we were the only organisation providing a lifeline to students at that time. We also committed to offering a series of online/virtual events which included: Xmas quiz, chocolate tasting, online cookie decorating, cheese and wine evening, mindfulness creative workshops, and yoga (amongst others). By hosting online events, we were also able to reach our distance learners who would not usually attend our events. This allowed for further engagement, which ultimately diversified our events this year.
As we began moving out of lockdown, we were able to host some in-person events, utilising our KPA Clubhouse space. Over the festive break, we held an Elf Hunt around the grounds of Keele Hall, which had over 800 attendees, many of which were postgraduate students with children. We also held a Christmas eve celebration with hot food and mulled wine, Christmas day brunches, woodland walks, and film clubs. We also held an Easter Egg hunt during the holidays which fell as lockdown restrictions eased further after the winter period. We also encouraged our students to go springtime strolling around campus, providing them with a free coffee on their journey and walking routes around Keele woods. This not only persuaded students to reconnect with campus but also encouraged them to incorporate active lifestyle into their days, taking breaks out of their schedules and bettering their wellbeing.
Following the pandemic, the KPA Clubhouse has become one of the most popular and attractive eating and drinking venues at Keele, thanks to the hard work of the Clubhouse Manager and staff. It is worth noting that several catering outlets on campus remained closed, which further increased demand on the KPA’s resources. Often the Clubhouse staff find that they become the bridge between undergraduate and postgraduate students and are there to lend a listening and supportive ear to students who are struggling, the Clubhouse represents a consistent space, a consistent presence all year round where postgraduates feel like they have a home to go to, someone to talk to and somewhere they feel like they belong.
As an association, we have continued to provide a wide range of social, academic and wellbeing events on a regular basis, including a comprehensive programme of events for Welcome Week, as well as continuing with mindfulness and yoga sessions. Whilst some activities take place in the Clubhouse upstairs space, we have also organized various activities outside campus, including a Black History Month event at the Wedgwood Museum and social trips to Trentham Gardens and Betley Bonfire.
We also launched initiatives such as ‘Productive Postgrads’ on Mondays to provide an informal, openoffice style working environment for postgraduate students to meet each other and seek support from others while encouraging their productivity and focus. This event has been particularly well received as students have been able to meet each other, support one another with queries and network.
This year we were delighted to be able to host our annual Postgraduate Celebration Evening in person in Keele Chapel, which was a chance to celebrate and thank our postgraduate community after a few difficult and challenging years. Our officers, with the help of our Administrative Coordinator Alison, created a fantastic in-person ceremony to celebrate our postgraduate students and their achievements, and to thank those who have actively supported postgraduate students and the community, across the year. We also collaborated with ILAS and the KDA to host the final of the Three Minute Thesis competition at the evening, which highlighted some of the thought-provoking research taking place at Keele by our students.
3. Raising the profile of postgraduate education and research at Keele University
The KPA committee have been involved in the development of new postgraduate modules and programmes that have been widely advertised at open days and through international recruitment. We were also involved in the creation of the new international induction and welcome week plans for September 2022 for the next new intake of international students, both postgraduate and undergraduate.
The officers worked closely with the Keele Doctoral Academy (KDA) on their Researcher Summer School in Summer 2022, to ensure that the needs of postgraduate researchers are heard, represented, and met. We also supported ILAS and the KDA at the Keele Postgraduate Conference in June 2022 encouraging students to get involved, supporting them in the making of their presentations/posters and being there to cheer them on.
The officers have been involved in leading on a Student Partnership vision with colleagues from the University, focusing on broadening and diversifying student voice, student engagement and student leadership. Two additional postgraduate students are also involved in this endeavour, and this has been a fantastic opportunity for all of us to shape postgraduate experience within the university. In addition, one of our officers sat on an external scrutiny panel for the University of Nottingham’s sabbatical team, to better understand the experiences of their students, and to also share our knowledge about how better to support postgraduate students.
The officers have been involved in Education Leadership Group meetings, where Covid-19 mitigations for exceptional circumstances, exam procedures and support offered to postgraduate students over the Christmas period and beyond were discussed. Following this, the officers have working closely with the Pro Vice Chancellor for Education, to ensure that postgraduate students get a tailored induction package when they start at Keele. In conjunction with Keele SU and UNIAC, the independent auditor, we carried out a focus group which gave us excellent insight into what postgraduates wanted from their induction period.
4. Fostering a sense of community for postgraduate students at Keele University
Throughout the year, the KPA has been deeply committed to maintaining a sense of community for postgraduate students, which we feel has been particularly important due to the lasting effects of the pandemic. We have had significant uptake at our online and in-person events (as described earlier), which proves just how valuable the KPA’s work in maintaining a sense of community has been for our postgraduate student body.
We also had several students run for our annual election and by-election this year, which was extremely encouraging. The number of nominations received proved that our student body found the work of the KPA important, wanting to support and represent their peers. We ensured that all election events and promotions were delivered online, to ensure that members had the opportunity to meet their candidates and understand their manifesto pledges. The online hustings event meant that students isolating or living away from campus were able to engage with the candidates, posing questions about their manifesto and ideas for the upcoming academic year.
During this year, we have had some changes to our current governing board. As expected, we had several new Officer and Student Trustees through our annual election and November by-election, and we also recruited a new external/lay trustee member – see: Reference & Administrative Details for 2021-22 KPA Annual Report.
We have been ensuring that our sub-committees now meet regularly to ensure that challenges that we face are clearly discussed, with recommendations being made to the board.
During this year we continued to prioritise amending our Constitution and By-Laws and had in-depth discussions about how these could be improved and made simpler and more accessible for the membership and other stakeholders to understand. This work is continuing into the next academic year (2022-2023) when we plan to enlist an external NUS registered consultant to help us to rewrite our governing documents. We have been investing a large amount of time and resource to this work as we acknowledge how significant and important it is that we have an up-to-date constitution which reflects everything that we are as a charity and where we want to go.
The governance structure of the KPA allows for three types of trustees: Officer trustees (elected); Student Trustee (elected); External trustees (appointed), the latter being appointed by the existing board of trustees via an Appointments Committee.
Where appropriate and available, induction and training are offered to all new trustees and officers on a variety of different parts of our work.
The Clubhouse has had a large increase in staffing this year, due to the increase of demand in the return to campus by students.
The KPA has three salaried staff positions:
Administrative Coordinator: Alison Tansey (part time)
Clubhouse Bar and Entertainments Manager: Julia Lawton (full time)
Deputy Clubhouse Bar and Entertainments Manager: Charlotte Davies (full time)
We also have a series of Bar and Kitchen Team Leaders and Casual Staff employed at the Clubhouse on flexible contracts.
Funds held as custodian trustee on behalf of others
The KPA does not hold funds for third parties.
Receiving an annual grant from Keele University, paid in instalments, the KPA continues to hold and manage its own funds.
The KPA would like to extend its gratitude and appreciation to Keele University for all the support provided over the last year.