Journal of Academic Language and Learning, Vol 11, No 1 (2017)

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Facilitating the transition to postgraduate studies: What can we learn from the First Year Experience?

Diane Bunney

Abstract


There has been a significant growth in postgraduate enrolments in recent decades which has resulted in an unprecedented diversity of students at postgraduate level. As a consequence, traditional assumptions about the academic competence of postgraduate students which are implicit in university policies and practices are no longer valid. Recent research suggests that postgraduate students have similar transition needs to first year undergraduates, but this is not acknowledged at an institutional level. Postgraduate students encounter many barriers yet adequate academic support services at postgraduate level are lacking. This paper presents two cases studies from an Australian university which address the provision of academic support in Master’s level programs. The findings indicate that a coordinated, program-wide approach incorporating non-traditional teaching strategies is needed to successfully integrate academic support.

The paper concludes that broad-ranging support is required to assist students to make a successful transition to postgraduate studies. A review of the First Year Experience literature offers useful insights into approaches to undergraduate transition which are relevant to the Postgraduate Experience. The increasing diversity of postgraduate cohorts and the complexity of their needs, however, poses significant challenges for traditional university systems. Nevertheless, it is argued that universities must take steps to prioritise engagement, support and retention at postgraduate level so that all students achieve quality education and employment outcomes. This will require the development of flexible university systems; targeted, postgraduate transition pedagogies based on undergraduate models; appropriate support mechanisms, including resources for students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; and further research.

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