According to HESA statistics for 2011/12, over 45% of UK postgraduates carry out their studies part-time (and 60.8% of part-time postgraduates are female).  While there seems to be little to no data on how many – part-time or full-time – are self-funding their postgraduate degree, anecdotal evidence – including the posts which will appear in this section of The New Academic – seem to suggest that a significant number of part-time postgraduates are also self-funders, with a lack of funding usually leading to part-time registration to allow easier management of tuition fees and time in which money towards those fees may be earned (though this combination certainly does not apply to all). To date, The New Academic has attempted to provide short introductions, guides and tips for postgraduates and early-career researchers, but as universal as these pieces of advice sometimes seem, they largely have failed to take into account the circumstances faced by those who are not carrying out full-time, fully-funded research.
“Brains, Time, Money” has been conceived as a space that redresses the relative silence surrounding part-time and self-funded postgraduate study, particularly in – though not strictly confined to – the UK at a time in which it appears more and more inevitable that those from financially less privileged backgrounds will be priced out of postgraduate education – not to say higher education in general – altogether. Whether or not self-funded and part-time postgraduate study will become increasingly common as a direct consequence of rising tuition fees remains to be seen, but the likelihood of this happening is not the sole motivating factor for this new initiative. Rather, it is intended to provide a space in which self-funders and part-timers can reflect on their situation – positively, negatively, or both – and draw attention to those needs which are specific to their mode of study.
What the accounts submitted to date demonstrate is the sheer variety of social and financial circumstances part-timers and self-funders face, and, indeed, the very ambiguity of the term “self-funded”. Yet, while they cannot be lumped into one coherent, homogenous group, many of them highlight common ways in which their studies can be supported (more) effectively by supervisors and institutions in particular. Some are receiving exemplary support, tailored to their mode of study and mindful of the ease with which part-time students can feel alienated from their institutional postgraduate community. Others grapple with that sense of isolation, a lack of access to training and resources, as well as with the idea that their research may be regarded as “less worthy” in intellectual terms, since it has been deemed “unworthy” on a financial – i.e. funding – level.
I refrain, here, from giving my own account of how I perceive the situation of self-funders and part-timers. I have never belonged to either category, and my speaking out on behalf of self-funders and part-timers here would render the aim of this new venture somewhat pointless. Rather, over the next months you will be able to read the accounts of many a self-funded and/or part-time postgraduate. What I hope these posts provide is a realistic balance of experiences as well as a less stigmatised or dramatic view of what it is like to study part-time and/or as a self-funder. Many who have yet to commence their postgraduate studies have mentioned the looks of pity and faces of shock when indicating to someone that they are considering self-funding their next degree. If anything, I hope the posts collected here will show you that neither response is constructive or necessary. From an institutional and academic point of view, I hope visiting “Brains, Time, Money” will motivate supervisors and universities to consider their current provision for part-timers and self-funders and how it may be improved.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this series has no deadline. If you feel inspired to write up your own experiences as a current or former self-funded and/or part-time postgraduate, please don’t hesitate to send your contribution at any point, no matter if it is a week or a year from the launch of “Brains, Time, Money”. To access information on how to submit a post, simply click here, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions. As always, please share and comment generously! To read a short news feature on “Brains, Time, Money” in the Times Higher Education, click here.