Now that summer is upon us it is easy to put postgraduate matters on the back-burner. After all, current postgrads will be busily getting on with their research, while incoming postgraduates have applied already for funding to start in October. But while the period between exams and admissions may therefore look temptingly undisturbed (at least as far as teaching goes!) – be aware that this can be a crucial time to ensure you’re ahead of the game in matters pertaining to postgraduate funding.
Check protocols are in place
Now is the time to refresh your memory about existing departmental and/or institutional guidelines for prospective postgraduates and to revisit any that may have become out of date over time. Make sure your departmental information is as current as possible with regard to protocols for application, and check that all links are in place. If not, now might also be a good time to approach the person who handles such matters with suggestions for updates and clarification.
Get on selection boards
It is no longer the case that postgraduate funding awards are handled by faceless research council committees. Nowadays, decisions about funding awards are made much closer to home, ever since the devolution of block funding to universities or to consortia of universities. This means that there may be more opportunities for academics to take part in the funding award process. Should you be invited to sit on a funding award body, seize the chance. Sitting on such a board can give you invaluable insight into the priorities of awarding bodies.
In addition, most universities will have in place a small number of institutional scholarships. These are usually highly competitive, particularly since most are open to candidates from across a range of disciplines. In these cross-disciplinary competitions being present to argue the case for your subject area can be vitally important to prospective candidates’ success rates.
Understand the funding environment
The summer period is also an excellent time to familiarize yourself (and therefore your potential postgraduates) with any recent changes in the funding environment. Postgraduate funding is complicated and multi-faceted, and prospective students may come to you for advice on which of several funding bodies to approach. Depending on your subject area, make sure you are familiar with the requirements of all possible funding bodies that your students might be eligible to apply for, and most importantly of all, familiarize yourself with application deadlines!
It’s a good idea to stay aware of the loan environment as well, since for most students this will be their primary source of income. Keep an eye out for recent changes in loans – a case in point is the announcement lately of new government-backed loans from the Student Loan Company of up to 10,000 pounds for eligible Masters (taught and research) students.
Remember, one size doesn’t fit all
Of all the constituencies universities deal with, postgraduate students are probably the most diverse. This means that there can be significant variation in the sorts of funding available to any given student. Remember that you may be dealing with mature students; students with vastly differing educational requirements; students from countries attracting very different fee regimes (international vs. national/EU); and students who may wish to study either part- or full-time. Each of these circumstances will affect the sort of funding opportunities available to any given student, and it will be helpful to your relationship with that student if you can provide at least preliminary advice on these distinctions.
Know where to direct them next
In many cases a department or institution will have people whose job it is to deal specifically with postgraduate funding. Keep yourself informed about who holds such roles in any given year, and make sure you direct any complex inquiries to that person or institutional centre. But don’t devolve all responsibility. It’s often the case that the student will benefit from a two-pronged approach in which she receives subject-specific, targeted advice about funding possibilities from you, as well as more general advice from the centre. Remember, your advice on this critical matter before your student even reaches university may lay the foundation of a positive supervisory relationship for years to come.