originial Word version of this document
Needs of Postgraduate Students in the UK
First Draft (amended)
Prepared by Tim Taylor, PhD student in Environmental Economics, University of Bath and
International Student Worker at Widcombe Baptist Church, Bath. Email: email@example.com.
Comments very much welcome!
Further Suggestions made September 9, 2000 by, Michael, Nadia, Lanre and
The issues facing postgraduate and postdoctoral students in UK universities can be
quite different from those of other groups in the church. Despite their age, some do
not feel they fit in to the church in the new location they find themselves in. Some
have a Christian Union background, but do not feel that the undergraduate CU system
necessarily deals with the issues and problems that they face. Many postgraduates are
caught in this divide, and this section will attempt to highlight the particular needs of
postgraduates so that Churches, Chaplaincy Centres and other organisations seeking
to serve postgraduates might be informed and take action to address these issues.
Postgraduate students can broadly be separated into three main groups, with some
degree of overlap:
? Christian postgraduate students - those who arrive at University with faith in Jesus
Christ. May have church or undergraduate CU background.
? International postgraduate students - those from overseas form the x% of UK
postgraduates. These are a particularly strategic group and hence warrant special
? Non-Christian postgraduate students - some postgraduate students may never have
come across Christianity before. Others may have some previous CU or church
In the following section a summary of the needs of postgraduates in general is
presented, with subsections highlighting the particular issues facing the groups shown
above. Finally some conclusions are drawn as to ways towards addressing these
The needs of postgraduate and postdoctoral students vary from place to place and
from individual to individual. It is important to point out that what follows is a broad
summary of the major issues facing postgraduates, both Christian and non-Christian.
This is based on the experiences of the authors of this document as Christian
postgraduates and workers within Christian postgraduate circles.
Needs of the Postgraduate
As was pointed out above, postgraduate and postdoctoral students form a particular
group in society. They are often in locations for one to three years, are in Universities
over the summer period and have different stresses and strains to undergraduates -
with working conditions more akin to those of the general public.
The following needs apply generally to postgraduates in the UK:
? Social Interaction
Postgraduate students can feel some degree of alienation from undergraduates,
particularly if they have not stayed at the same university for both undergraduate
and postgraduate degrees. There is less of a sense of a community among
postgraduates than is the case with undergraduates, with the main social groups
being office mates or interest-based groups. Because peers at university are as
busy as the student is, it is often very difficult to make bonds with others. The
sense of isolation can be acute; at times of great emotional stress, students can feel
that there is no one to whom they can turn.
? Welfare Support
The jump between undergraduate and postgraduate studies is large and there is
often not many support services in place to help a new postgraduate student to
adjust. For instance, it can be difficult to learn how to manage time and stress in
an environment that consistently demands performance but often provides only a
vague sense of structure.
? Financial support
Stresses of finances and deadlines are experienced by students of all kinds, but are
more acutely felt amongst postgraduates, where it is the norm to be either funded
by national governments or funding agencies, or supported by family. The
pressure to perform at very high standards and to complete studies quickly is
therefore amplified. Studies are also relatively long, with doctoral studies
sometimes taking up to 4 or 5 years. Because these students are relatively older
than undergraduates, there can be an accompanying sense of duty Ė to the family
giving financial support, to the government that provided a scholarship, and
sometimes to the studentís own spouse/child(ren).
? Academic support and feedback
Directly related to the sense of isolation and lack of welfare support is an
accompanying need for academic support and feedback. Supervision varies from
individual to individual, but it is often the case that postgraduates wish they could
see their supervisors more regularly. Unlike undergraduates, there are fewer (if
any) classmates and these are often pursuing lines of thought completely unrelated
to othersí. A context for supportive ideas and feedback on a studentís work can be
an important unmet need at postgraduate level.
? Marital Support
There are relatively few married postgrads, which means that those who are
married can feel a need for advice and support on issues pertaining to their
relationships. This can be acutely felt because very often couples are away from
their regular support groups (families, close friends).
Needs of Postgraduate Christians
Postgraduate Christians broadly fall into two groups: those that have stayed at the
same university throughout their University career and those that have changed
University. The former, are sometimes able to continue in CU and church
environments, although CUs, given their undergraduate focus, can become 'stale' with
repetition. The latter, however, may fall between the church-CU gap if they feel out of
In addition to those described above, Christian postgraduates in the UK can feel the
? Biblical teaching
A critical need for all Christians is a forum for the discussion of God's word.
Whilst CU's and churches do provide opportunity for this, attention has to be
drawn to the fact that Christian Union bible study groups tend to be based on
undergraduates, who have different needs to postgraduates. Whilst older
Christians might gain from being able to guide younger Christians, this is not
necessarily a place for spiritual growth and may lead to spiritual stagnation. A
lack of educated discussion may prove a barrier. Church bible study groups may
provide the answer, depending on their level of development and the subject
The need for community is acute, particularly in those coming from other
universities. There is a need for Christian groups with which to pray, socialise,
and worship. It is often the case that Christians do not remain missions and
ministry active because of the isolation and time-demands of postgraduate
research and thesis writing. If a Christian becomes a part of a community that is
ministry focused it can often be easier to retain levels of energy and enthusiasm
about Christian work.
The Christian who has had good contact with an undergraduate CU may find it
difficult to adjust to there not being a similar group for postgraduates. As the
stresses and strains of postgraduate work are different in many ways to those of
undergraduates, the need for peer group accountability may be felt. Christian
postgrads may also feel a need to be discipled by someone who understands their
needs and experiences as postgraduate. They need to be able to develop strong
individual links with other Christians in order to sharpen their faith and seek
emotional and spiritual help when these are needed.
? Faith-Learning Synergy
Postgraduates spend a lot of time thinking about their studies and are often
approaching the highest level of inquiry in their discipline. It becomes very
important for Christian postgraduates to be able to relate their Christian faith to
their pursuit of knowledge. Christians want to relate the fundamental truths of the
Christian faith to the area that is being studied.
The development of a forum for intellectual debate on specific subject areas is one
way of addressing this need, with an example being Christians in Science.
Christian postgraduates should be directed towards contact with such groups
where possible, and Christian Unions, Chaplaincies and Churches should provide
Needs of the International Student
Much has been written on the issue of international student outreach, given the
strategic nature of this ministry in building up churches in areas of the world with
little or no contact with Christianity (see for example Cross Culture). ISCS and other
missionary groups have a particular interest in this group of students.
As well as the general needs of postgraduates described earlier, international
postgrads often feel the following special needs:
? To feel welcome and at home
Students who have come from abroad to study can experience a sense of
alienation and of un-belonging. This can be felt even more intensely in the UK,
where British citizens are known for their reserve. Internationals long to feel that
their host country is happy to have them and is interested in making them feel
comfortable in their new country.
? Language instruction/sensitivity to language issues
Language is perhaps the most obvious issue for many international students. The
level of understanding of the English language differs from postgraduate to
postgraduate, but often vocabulary can prove limited particularly when it comes to
communicating about the personal or the spiritual. Students from different
language backgrounds need people who are willing to be patient and sensitive to
their language needs.
International students may feel isolated in Christian Union and Church activities if
they cannot understand the subject matter being discussed. Socially, meeting in
pubs and clubs with loud music may hamper understanding. Recent international
student attendees to a mission event in Bath found jokes particularly hard to
follow (although this should not be seen as a discouragement for the use of such
events for evangelistic purposes).
The international studentís need for information is huge. More than likely they
will not have been in the UK before, or at the very least, in the city in which they
are now studying. They need information on locations of supermarkets and stores,
housing, buildings and offices at the university; information about how the
university works administratively, etc.
? Cultural clues and information
Cultural differences may prove a barrier to international student's integration with
the UK student body. Issues such as the consumption of alcohol, the values of
Western society and the different religious backgrounds of internationals may lead
to alienation. Internationals may need a local friend/advisor, someone they can
trust and to whom they can turn to learn about British etiquette, idiom, and
unspoken cultural codes.
The treatment of women is also an issue, for Islamic women in particular and
women-specific groups should be encouraged where there is need. Culture
specific groups, such as Chinese Christian Fellowships and others may address the
needs of some, though the degree of integration and co-operation between such
groups and the Christian Unions is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Needs of the Non-Christian Postgraduate
The fundamental need of this group may not be one they perceive at all, but it is the
same for everyone: the need for salvation through Jesus Christ. The issue for the
church and other organisations is one of finding methods for reaching this group. CU
and Church activities may provide some stimulus towards this, although the focus of
such activities may not suit the postgraduate community.
The following points articulate some of the things necessary for reaching out to non-
Non-Christians need to be in relationships with Christians who love them and seek
to meet their needs, the way Jesus both showed and commanded us.
? Contexts for inquiry
We need to provide settings for non-Christians to begin to ask spiritual questions.
These will clearly vary widely, but they must be sensitively chosen and
appropriate to the non-Christianís comfort-level. Many non-Christians have a
barrier set up against churches, and this must be borne in mind. Some examples of
contexts which facilitate spiritual inquiry include friendships; weekly meetings in
a coffee shop to discuss questions; evangelistic bible studies in a room on Hall or
in a college, etc.
This issue of access to these groups is central to the need for focused work within
postgraduate circles. Postgraduates tend to have better access to other
postgraduates than the general population, as is the case in many other peer groups
in society (Christian businessmen, toddler's groups, wives groups etc). The need
for postgrad to postgrad outreach is one that is not often raised. This is a critical
area that needs to be addressed. Christian postgrads need to be prepared to answer
questions on their faith, but also need to be willing to share it with others in their
Postgraduate students have a number of needs that are different to those of
undergraduates and society in general. For the Christian, these needs include the need
to relate the Christian faith to work. For the International Student, culture and
language may present important barriers. For the non-Christian the basic need is for
salvation through the blood of Christ. This section has attempted to highlight some of
the basic needs of postgraduate students falling into these different categories. The
issue of how to best answer these needs is covered later in this document.
International Student Christian Services