The Higher Education Graduate Trainee Programme

Whilst still working as an intern at the University of Leicester’s Students’ Union I was made aware of a new grad scheme for higher education administration. The University of Nottingham have employed graduate trainees for a few years now, however this is the first year that a national scheme has been put into practice. Eight universities across the UK are taking part and have agreed to employ and fund two graduate trainees over 15 months. The universities taking part form three clusters, the London cluster, northern cluster and the midlands cluster. This year you could only apply to the instituion that you graduated from, however spend the 2nd 4 month placement of your contract at another university from your cluster. As the only 2 universities in the midlands cluster this year are Nottingham and Leicester, Nottingham is where I will spend my 2nd placement. As well as carrying out 3 placements in your host and guest university the graduates also become members of the AUA (Association of University Administrators) as part of the scheme and complete 1 module of a PG Cert in university management.

I have been lucky enough to gain a place on the scheme, after undergoing a long application process. After successfully making it through the initial application stage I was then offered a phone interview. Part of this phone interview involved giving a quick presentation of Post-Qualification Admissions (PQAs). Following this I was asked to attend an assessment day held at the University of Nottingham. There were 3 days, 1 for each cluster. The asessment day consited of a group task, 2 interviews, a comprehension test and a written test.The final stage of the application process was a formal panel interview. For the University of Leicester the panel consitted of 5 memebrs of staff, all significantly high up, including the Vice-Chancellor.

All 16 lucky graduates attended a week of training hosted by the University of Nottingham, which began on September 3rd 2012. This was a great opportunity to meet everyone, as well as getting a taster of the HE sector. The work wasn’t hard, but they worked us hard. Sessions were a mix of speakers from HE intitutions and related organisations, group tasks representatitive of HE administration issues, and self reflective activities. Overall it was well put together and a great starting point to the scheme. The majority of graduates including myself began work on our 1st placement at our host university on 10th September 2012.


Work experience in the University of Leicester’s HR department

As I wish to pursue a career in Human Resources I’ve arranged to do work experience in the HR department of the University of Leicester. This came about after I attended the Recruitment and Selection workshop as part of staff training. This workshop was run by Mike Powell (Recruitment Team), who I spoke to at the end asking for advice on how to get into the HR industry. Mike suggested contacting our head of HR, Alun Reynolds, and passed on his email address. Mr Reynolds then put me in contact with Sally Worth, who is the Interim Head of Organisation Development. Sally was happy for me to come over to HR for a 1/2 day work experience each week for as long as I work at the University. As of last week I now go over to HR each Thursday from 1.30pm to 5pm.

My first day in HR was mainly spent discussing what I would be doing during my time there and being introduced to the team.  Sally had spoken to the various departments within HR including Staff Development, Advisory Service, Equality, Wellbeing and Recruitment & Selection and arranged for me to spend some time in each of them. The plan for each week is shown in the table below.

Date HR Department Report to Areas of interest/Notes
12-Apr Staff Development Linda Stirk
19-Apr Staff Development Linda Stirk
26-Apr HR Advisory Service Rhiannon Stafford
03-May HR Policy Helen Oliver
10-May HR Equality Chris Sharp
17-May Wellbeing Tentative Veronica moore
24-May Recruitment & Selection Kevin Ritchie

The above table only goes up to 24th May, however I will continue to go over each week until 18th July. 

I am hoping this work experience will give me a better idea of whether HR is the right career path for me, as well as providing some key experience to help me break into the job sector following my current internship.

My Internship and Future

The Leicester Graduate Internships Programme internships last for 6 months. My internship in the Students’ Union as Education Representation Officer was due to finish on March 18th 2012, however has been extended. The Students’ Union have extended it for 1 month until 18th April and even better GENIE, in the University Genetics department, have extended it until 18th June/July!

The Students’ Union has kept me on to continue looking after the Course Rep system, with the main reasons being that we are hoping to elect and train reps in the Summer term rather than in October, and as their accreditation needs marking. They however are not able to fund me for any longer than the end of April.

I currently coordinate the Employability Project which is run by GENIE and the Education Unit (see previous post). Professor Annette Cashmore is in charge of this project and has been impressed by my contribution to it and therefore would like to keep me working on it past April. For this reason GENIE will fund me for an extra 2 or 3 months meaning i will continue to work here until the end of June/July depending on the work load and funding available. As well as working on the Employability Project and running the Course Rep System this means I will also work on other projects led by GENIE, which are yet to be confirmed.  as well as being based in the Students’ Union I will spend 1 or 2 days a week in the GENIE offices.

Before my internship I had no idea what career I wanted to go into. The parts of my internship that I have enjoyed most so far have been designing the and delivering the training to Course Reps, keeping databases of project staff and Course Reps and interviewing for student staff positions. Based on this I am now looking to persue a career in Human Resources.   My first step towards this is to d some work experience in the University of Leicester HR department. I have spoken to our Interim Head of Organisation Development who is happy for me to go over to the HR department for a 1/2 day each week whilst I am still working here. The details of this are still to be confirmed, however it is definitely going ahead and will be a great opportunity.

The Employability Research Project

The Employability Research Project is run by GENIEin the University of Leicester genetics department and the Education Unit in the Students’ Union (SU). The team working on this project is a composition of 8 students and staff from both the SU and the University. I act as coordinator, which involves chairing the meeting and running the overall process directing the rest of the team. The project has been running since Novemeber 2011 and is ongoing.

The aims of the project are:-
•To find out what students and staff think employability skills are and where students and staff think students are getting these skills whilst at University
•To find out other ways that student and staff feel employability skills could be further embedded in the curriculum and developed in activities outside of academic studies.
•To produce specific guidelines to develop and improve the ways in which employability skills are embedding within the curriculum.

The research methods used to gather staff and student’s views include a survey, focus groups and one on one interviews with students and employers. Two staff and two student focus groups were conducted and each student working on the project conducted an interview.

There are two surveys, one for staff and one for students, both of which have many similar questions in order to draw comparisons between the views of the two groups. These surveys are available online via the following links and as hard copies.

A lot of thought went into the content of these surveys by the students and staff working on the project. The content was discussed at several of our weekly meeting, which take place on a Tuesday morning at 9am. My role at these meetings is to plan the agenda, chair and set tasks for the students. A link to the online version was sent round to all staff and student by email via the department secretaries.

A week of promotion was carried out in which students working on the project actively encouraged students to fill out the survey on campus. For this I ordered pens (click to see design) showing the link to the online survey, flyers (design shown below), posters, box stands and lollies to encourage people to take. The students promoting were equipped with both hard copies of the survey and iPads to allow people to fill it in online.  As well as the students already working on the project we also hired some more promotional student staff. A huge incentive was given to students to fill in the survey which was that they would be entered into a draw to win an iPad!

Employability Flyer and Poster Design:


Other promotion which ran for longer than a week included using the designs for the poster and flyers as profile pictures on Facebook and putting them on the TV screens around our Students’ Union.  A Facebook event was set up giving people details of the project and the link to the survey. Lecture shout outs were given and emails were sent round via departments and to societies and sports clubs.

As a further push during the last week of term (week commencing 26th March) we put on a lunch in the Students’ Union allowing people to get free food in return for filling out the survey. We also added an extra incentive of handing in 3 surveys in exchange for a creme egg.

A picture taken at the promotional lunch, also showing the box stand:

Data collection will finish on 30th March 2012 after which a report will be written including the following:
•A literature Review
•Data Analysis
•Focus Group and Interview write up
•Conclusion and Recommendations

The report will be primarily written by the student staff who have all been assigned a section. A member of academic or Union staff will oversee or look after the students working on each section. I will oversee the whole report ensuring everyone is contributing and that everything is running smoothly.

A presentation of this report will be given by two or three of the student staff at several different academic committee meetings across the University.

So far the project is going really well. Student and staff input is on track meaning hopefully we will get some good results and be able to use the finding to improve the student learning experience and increase their chances of gaining employment following their studies.

Course Rep ED Advisory Committees

The ED Advisory Committees (ran by the Students’ Union) were held on Thursday 15th March 2012. There were a total of 4 sessions throughout the day, two for each college with two colleges attending the same session. The colleges are as follows:

Arts Humanities and Law paired with Social Sciences

 Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology paired with Science and Engineering

It was a chance for Course Reps to talk to other Reps in their college and highlight any similar issues or concerns students across the college might have, in a safe environment with no academic staff present.

My role here was to organize the sessions, planning the ‘agenda’, booking rooms and inviting the Course Reps to the relevant time slot. Although there was an agenda the sessions were very much student led as we wanted them to think about their role and engage with each other. The Agenda is shown below:

ED Advisory Committees Agenda 

Brief update/reminder about:

Student Task :

  • Write one thing on the post-it that you have achieved as a course rep e.g. chairing a meeting
  • Write one thing on the post-it that you would like to achieve (wish list)
  • Sort them by similarity under the college headings on the wall
The idea of the task was to get the Course Reps thinking about there role and experiences so far.

Below is a consolidated version of the notes made throughout the day, giving details of the common issues that tended to span across several departments and colleges. The notes also contain details of the College Academic Committee Reps, including what their role is.

Ed Advisory Committee Notes

Overall the day was a success and attendance was pretty good.

Course Rep Top-Up Training

Last week I held 5 Top-up Training session for Course Reps, with the help of the Ed Unit. These lasted just under 1 hour and had 2 main sections. The first part of the training gave information about campaigns and Course Rep related issues taking place over this semester. The second part of the training was a workshop on time management skills provided by Marta Ulanicka from Learning Development in the Careers department at the University of Leicester.

A reminder was given about the National Students Survey (NSS) which has been running since 6th February 2012 and will continue to run for a couple of months. This is a survey measuring student satisfaction which is completed by final year undergraduate students. he data gathered in previous years has made big changes to the student experience in many Higher Education Institutions across the UK. It can even lead to small changes at a course level. The higher the response to the survey the more chance there is of improving the learning experience for future students.This year our University are running a campaign to promote the survey and encourage students to fill it in. As part of this campaign the Education Unit are running a competition for final year Reps. We are asking them to promote the survey to final year students’ in their department. We will provide them with flyers to hand out in lectures or post in pigeon holes in their department.  There are a few rules they need to follow such as that they cannot force someone to take part in the survey and theycannot influence their response, for example they must not encourage them to say good or bad things about their department. The winners of the competition will be based on the following:

  • The percentage of students in that department filling out the survey
  • The overall number of responses that department gets
  • The campaigning effort the final year course reps in that department put in as a group.

Each final year course rep in the winning department will receive a £10 Highcross voucher.

In March the Ed Unit will be running the ‘I love My Academic‘ campaign. We ran this last year and it was a great success. It is an award celebrating good teaching where students nominate academic staff and say why they should win. The campaign will run from 12th March  2012 to 30th March 2012, which is the end of the Spring term.  The survey will be filled out online at Close to the start of the campaign a link will be sent out to Course Reps who will be asked to distribute this and promote the campaign to students in their department.

This year Course Rep Accreditation will be assessed based more on qualitativerather than quantitative data. This means that it is better for the Reps to attend a few Course Rep events but put in a lot of effort and contribute a lot to them rather than attend many and contribute little.  We have asked them to record and submit anything that they do that they feel contributes to their effectiveness as a course rep. Doing it this way also means that they might think of somethings that helps them in their role that we hadn’t thought of. Their record can be in any format you like e.g. an online blog, word document or hand written. They must include evidence in your record such as photos, screen shots, email and references. The deadline for submission of their Course Rep Accreditation record is 30th March 2012 by 4pm.

A big change is being made to the Course Rep system this year which is that we will be hoping to recruit and train the 2nd and final year reps in the summer term! This is still very much in the planning stages and we welcome any input from existing course reps. The benefits of doing this include allowing more time to spread out the training and give more sessions, letting more Course Reps attend. We can also tailor the training more towards existing reps. One suggestion is to give different training sessions to Reps from different colleges. We are hoping to get existing Reps involved and ask them to contribute to the training sessions. Of course 1st year reps will still be elected and training in October.

Below is a link to the PowerPoint used in the training sessions including the section on time management:
 For the benefit of distance learning reps we live streamed two of the sessions. A recording of this session will be available on the course rep blog ( later this week.
Over the five sessions we trained 100 reps which is pretty good. All the sessions ran smoothly and general feedback on the day was good, so I’m very pleased with the events over all.

NUS Postgraduate Forum

On Saturday 21st February 2012 NUS held a forum at their head quarters in London to discuss the information advice and guidance that should be available to postgraduate students.  The HE White Paper in England suggested that there should be a national student survey and key information set for taught postgraduates. This has raised several issues which  the NUS Postgraduate Committee will be working on this term. These include the following:

  • What might the student survey and key information look like?
  • What other information, advice and guidance needs do taught and research postgraduates have?
  • How can students’ unions improve how they offer IAG to postgraduate students?

Postgraduate students (both taught and research) and student union staff as well as members of NUS staff attended the forum to give a variety of perspectives on these issues. Myself (Annette Samuel, Education Representation Officer) and David Mason, a biological sciences postgraduate course rep studying cancer research, attended on behalf the University of Leicester.

The forum lasted 3 hours and the agenda was as follows:

1.30-1.45 -Welcome

1.45-2.15- A day in the life…

2.15-3.00- Key Information for postgrads

3.00-3.15- Break

3.15-4.00- Speed research – what can I get from my union?

4.00-4.30- Review, recommendations and reports

The majority of the day was group discussion on the issues that effect postgraduate students and what they need to consider or what motivates them to take a course. For some this may be a passion for the subject, often the case in scientific research, whereas for others it may be to develop and improve their career prospects.  All points discussed were minuted and will be sent to me over the next week or so, at which point I will share any relevant information with the course reps at Leicester.

For the speed research task we were required to highlight the key information a postgraduate might need from a students’ union website. Our table felt they would need information on opening times, accommodation, how to get involved and any postgraduate events the union is holding to name a few. We were then asked to look at the website of the university that another person on our table attends and see how easy it is to find this information. I’m pleased to report the feedback for Leicester was pretty good.

Hopefully the points discussed will allow our Students’ Union to have a look at what we provide for postgraduate students and highlight any areas that we need to improve.