What is it that makes postgraduate students feel like they deserve specially designated study and social spaces? Entering my fifth year at the University, I for one was certainly ready for a change of scenery. For me, the prospect of somewhere to go other than level 8 of the library, packed with naïve freshers, was a welcome one.
Likewise, for those who have sought out Glasgow University specifically for postgraduate study, it is reasonable to expect that there would be a range of assigned areas within which they are able to interact with others in similar academic circumstances. I imagine all of those who arrived in September for a one year course were keen to quickly start forging the necessary friendships and connections to allow them to make the most of their time here.
It strikes me that while there have been attempts of sorts to facilitate such scenarios within the University, it could be doing a whole lot more. Especially in light of the news that the University will be increasing its number of students by a further 1,200 next year – something that will inevitably impact postgraduate students.
The postgraduate study space on level 5 of the library, opened in 2013, is the largest designated postgraduate facility on campus. There are definitely some positives about this spot. The novelty of gaining access to the previously off-limits area of a building that you have already fully roamed day and night for four years is a start. There are couches, plugs at almost every table, and the open layout makes for something a tad less tense than elsewhere on campus.
However, it simply isn’t big enough. 170 study spaces and five bookable group study rooms ensures that this area can only accommodate a tiny fraction of the University’s ever-growing postgraduate cohort. Particularly as December deadlines loom, this space is not a sanctuary away from the chaotic main library, but simply more of the same. The room has become just another irritating stop on the typically fruitless afternoon search for a seat. Additionally, whether it’s the shockingly orange hue of the walls or the glass partitioning, any time I do manage to grab a spot, I find the environment far from conducive to concentration.
The Gilchrist Postgraduate Club in the main building is the other main resource. This is billed as an exclusive venue away from the bustle of the general University populace, accessible only with a PG or staff card. While it is good to have a social space in the centre of campus that offers an alternative to the mania of lunchtime at the Fraser building, it would appear that there are serious shortcomings here too.
Just last week, a long-serving member of the University’s postgraduate community bemoaned the shrinking of the resources available to him. Before the opening of the Gilchrist Club in 2012, he remembers a two-floor facility on the same site, with study spaces overlooking one of the main building’s spectacular Quads. That second tier is now office space and the exclusivity of the café has been compromised.
It seems that over the summer months, the card-only access system was dropped to encourage fuller use of the facility, a business decision that is reasonable due to noticeably reduced footfall during this period. However, it was weeks into the first semester before the card system was reactivated, and only after multiple complaints were lodged by students. As a result, anyone and everyone in the vicinity of the main building had been taking the opportunity to pop in for a coffee, lengthening queues and severely reducing already limited seating space. After committing such a grave administrative error in admitting an extra 1000 PGT students this year, one would think the University management would be doing everything in its power to ensure that existing structures did their best to support the increased contingent. Instead, it has simply frustrated it further.
When the new Learning and Teaching Hub comes to fruition, it is hoped that these overcrowding issues will ease. However, for now at the very least, the University needs to offer clarity to its fee-paying students by publishing an exhaustive list of general and subject-specific areas where postgrads can go to study and socialise, and expect to be surrounded by their direct peers.