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Other student support
Most of the support for your academic studies will come from the academic staff, administrative staff and fellow students in your department. However, every university also has a wide range of support for postgraduate students that you can use.
The Postgraduate life section looks at a range of services that might support your personal life in the UK, so here we shall focus on those that might support your academic studies and related issues, both within and outside the university.
Within a university
The Student Union
Every university has a Student Union, although its exact title will vary from place to place. Its purpose is to provide a full range of social and welfare facilities and services for students, and you will automatically be a member of the Student Union when you register as a student at the university.
For you as an international postgraduate student it can provide a wide range of advice and services to support your academic studies. Most Student Unions will have specialist advisers who know and understand all of the issues about life and study as a postgraduate. Most Unions will also have at least one international student adviser who knows and understands the issues of being an international student in the UK and within the particular university. These advisers can give you advice on both minor and major issues. With major problems they can often talk with your department or supervisor on your behalf or represent you or accompany you in meetings with academic staff.
The International Office
You will probably have had some contact with the International Office when you were enquiring or applying to the university. While their main task is recruiting international students, they will also be able to provide you with support and guidance while you are in the university.
They will be very knowledgeable about the sorts of issues international students may face, and will be able to give advice or direct you to somebody or an organisation who can help with any issues you have. In large universities the International Office may have specialist staff who know particular countries or regions of the world very well, perhaps as an expert, for example, on China or South America. They will have an excellent understanding of your culture and background, and of the economic, social, political and educational systems in your own country. They will therefore have a good understanding of some of your issues and can provide good advice or guidance.
Study support and disability services
Every university has services to support students with specific study needs. They will be able to provide programs or training in study skills, ranging from note-taking to essay writing to the use of IT. They will also be able to provide testing for learning issues such as dyslexia, and then provide guidance on what individual needs you may have to overcome such problems. Your own tutor or program leader or the Student Union will be able to provide information about these services.
Legislation by the UK government now means that universities are obliged to meet the needs of most disabled students so that they can study. Each university, therefore, will have a Disability Service, which can provide advice to current students and to applicants about how their individual needs can be met. They will also work with individual academic departments to arrange for particular students’ needs to be met. If you are aware of a disability or study need that is likely to affect how you work as a student then it is important that you contact the Disability Service at the earliest opportunity, and probably before you submit an application for a place at the university. They will be able to give excellent advice on how well your needs can be met.
Details of the university Disability Service will be in the prospectus or on the website or, if issues arise after you have started your program, you will be put in touch with them by your department.
Towards the end of your time as a postgraduate student you will be faced with the question of ‘what shall I do next?’. After your studies looks at this in some detail. An important source of help and guidance will be the university Careers Advisory Service, who have experience and expertise in supporting students in thinking about a career. You will find that the Careers Service often run work experience schemes, career planning courses and sessions with employers to provide information about different jobs. Do make contact with them early on to find out about the range of services on offer.
Every university will have a counselling service. Student wellbeing is of paramount importance and the counselling team will be able to provide independent support to students who feel they have personal or academic problems that they cannot resolve easily themselves. The main purpose of the counselling service is to provide support through listening to students and, if appropriate, helping them to develop a strategy for dealing with issues or providing guidance on additional support and help. All counselling services will be free of charge, totally confidential and staffed by trained counsellors with substantial experience of dealing with the issues that students face. Your tutor, your programme handbook, the Student Union or the university website will be able to tell you how to contact the counselling service.
Outside a university
Outside the university there are a number of services and resources that you will be able to use to support your academic studies, and we shall look briefly here at the most useful ones.
Public library and information services
In every town or city you will find that there is a local library and information service. These are usually owned and operated by the local government – the city council or the district or county council serving the city or region. Although you will be able to get books and other resources from these libraries through your university’s inter-library loan service, it is probably better to visit and use these libraries yourself. They will usually have very good collections of local materials – publications on local and regional geography, history, society, business and politics, and special collections of local materials. They will also have good information on local organisations and how to contact them. You will be able to join these libraries at no cost as a local resident, and in many cases your university library card will be enough to allow you to use their services.
In some of the larger cities, and in particular London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh, you will find national libraries and museums which are an important source of information. For example, if you are a student in London then it will be worth visiting the British Library. This is one of four copyright libraries that hold every publication within the UK. If you live outside London you can access their materials through your own university library through the interlibrary loan service.
Embassies and consulates
For international students an important source of guidance and advice is their own national embassy or consulate. Larger countries and those with a large number of students in the UK will have a specialist education advice section. This can provide you with advice and guidance on a wide range of issues, from visas to travel to funding.
Many countries will require you to ‘register’ with their embassy or consulate when you are in the UK. Even if they do not actually require this, you may find it useful to make contact with them soon after your arrival in the UK so that you can find out what support and services they can provide, and how to contact them in an emergency.
Chapter 10 of the book Postgraduate Study in the UK by Nicholas and Rosalind Foskett covers this whole subject in much more detail.
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