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New wave of postgraduate researchers to benefit from GW4 Connect peer support schemes

New wave of postgraduate researchers to benefit from GW4 Connect peer support schemes

Two new cross-institutional peer support programmes for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) from marginalised and underrepresented groups from the GW4 Alliance universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, have officially launched, with just under 40 PGRs from across the Alliance in-line to benefit from the schemes. 

GW4 Connect is a suite of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) programmes which will bring together postgraduate researchers from diverse backgrounds to form networks of support for marginalised and underrepresented communities in higher education. Previous Connect programmes have focused on providing targeted support for PGRs from the Global Majority, as well as those with parental responsibilities.  

Developed and delivered by specialists, the two new programmes will offer support and guidance to 38 PGRs, with one scheme targeting neurodivergent postgraduate researchers, and another aimed at supporting postgraduate researchers with disabilities and long-term health conditions. As part of this, participants are invited to join a series of workshops, 1:1s and online peer discussions, with the view of creating neutral spaces where honest and open conversations can occur outside of the usual institutional structures. 

Co-designed and facilitated by Lucy Smith, Founder of Inclusive Change, an organisation that champions greater understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace, and Asha Sahni, Founder and Chair of the University of Bristol’s Neurodiversity Staff Network, the peer support programme for neurodivergent postgraduate researchers was originally intended to offer 16 participants the chance to join an 11-month programme to work with neurodiversity experts and peers from across the region to explore neurodivergence.   

Due to the scheme’s popularity, with more than double the number of applications received compared to places available, a second cohort of participants have been selected to join an additional iteration of the programme, beginning in September 2024. The participants for the first cohort began their scheme in May 2024, participating in dedicated 1:1s with facilitators, before moving into tailored workshop sessions. 

The peer support programme for postgraduate researchers with disabilities and long-term health conditions has been co-designed and will be facilitated by Joanna Hurry, an experienced coach specialising in working with people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, and will offer 12 participants the opportunity to join a 10-month programme where they will have open, safe and honest conversations with peers.   

The popularity of both programmes highlights the need for the higher education sector to improve its provision of institutional support for PGRs from marginalised and underrepresented groups, as well as those with additional needs and requirements.  

Currently, there are uneven levels of institutional support for neurodivergent postgraduate researchers. Whilst the higher education sector is rapidly expanding its understanding of the impact of neurodivergence on the student population, most of this effort is concentrated on those studying at undergraduate level. 

Similarly, despite the protections embedded within the 2010 Equality Act, institutional support for PGRs with a disability or a long-term health condition can be challenging to navigate, and what might be considered reasonable adjustments at undergraduate level rarely translate to the postgraduate research experience.  

Dr Sabrina Fairchild, GW4 Talent and Skills Manager, said: “Postgraduate researchers can often be left to navigate a system that can create barriers to success, through unconscious bias and attitudes, culture, environment, policy and process. The volume of applications that we received across both of these new schemes clearly indicates an untapped demand for additional support for postgraduate researchers from marginalised and underrepresented backgrounds. Our aim is that GW4 Connect will serve not only as a means to empower PGRs to obtain the support they need to meet their needs, but also as a tool through which we can gather insights to make recommendations to institutional policy-makers for improvements to the support available.” 

University of Bath
University of Bristol
Cardiff University
University of Exeter