• June 6th, 2020

The role of graduate students in higher education institutions

Universities across the world are ranked using a number of criteria. There are many ranking systems that are used in regional and global rankings. One of the crucial criteria is the research output conducted by professors. 

Normally research is tied to the number of productive professors a university has. Therefore, productive professors play a leading role in the prestige a university commands and its place on the log standings of universities.

So, when university professors get into retirement and leave their institutions, their areas of specialisation usually get seriously affected. There are two major reasons why professors’ disciplines become affected. First, there might not have been contingency plans in place in the form of talent management and succession plan in the institutions. Second, it is difficult to recruit a professor who will fit squarely into the position of the retired one. 

Professors are rare species; they are well sought after in higher education institutions because they lead in research and postgraduate work. Higher education institutions more often than not fight over the few professors available to fill their vacant positions. 

In most cases, the vacant positions go for years without being filled. There is stiff competition when it comes to professors. When they fail to fill professors’ vacant positions, higher education institutions suffer both in reputation and rankings. 

In order to keep the good work that the retiring professors are doing, there must be a systematic talent identification and retention scheme in higher education institutions. Universities can do this by tapping from their graduate students, especially master’s and doctoral students. Universities which have identified talented masters’ and doctoral students and groomed them have not experienced many problems when professors retire. This is because a professor is given a number of graduate students to under study him over the years.  

Graduate students, working under the strict supervision of professors, are an important component of the academic world. They learn the ropes of academia by doing, and they form a pool of future academics at higher education institutions. Graduate students complement the work of their professors in many ways. They assist their professors in teaching and conducting research. They are coached on how to mark and grade undergraduate students’ assignments and other written work. Graduate students conduct tutorials with undergraduate students. This forces them to research in their disciplines in order to be ahead of undergraduate students. In other words, graduate students have specific instructional roles for the classes they are assigned to.

  In addition to conducting research, graduate students co-publish academic papers with their professors. They also start to attend local and international conferences with their professors. By taking their graduate students to conferences, professors build confidence into their students so that they can one day perform the function alone, without their mentors. They are introduced to the international arena of academics in their fields of specialisations. These students begin to specialise in the areas of their professors at an early age.

 Research has shown that lecturers who pass through the route of graduate teaching assistants or graduate-student programmes are more grounded than the ones who are recruited without this experience. The former are easily absorbed into academia without the rigours of orientation and training in most cases. 

Some studies have concluded that using graduate students improves the retention rate of undergraduate students in different degree programmes. The major reason given for this is that graduate students have more personal attachment to the undergraduate students than lecturers and professors. In other words, undergraduate students relate more to graduate students than to lecturers and professors. This is a positive sign that graduation rates may increase. Universities worldwide are trying hard to find ways of improving the graduation rates of their students annually. Low graduation rates have become a perennial problem.

In conclusion, higher education institutions must hire talented graduate students as teaching assistants. Some universities call them tutors or graduate teaching assistants. Whatever name they are given, there is no doubt that they play a crucial role in higher education. 

It must be mandatory for all higher education institutions to have concrete succession management plans in place. There is no better way to do this than to use graduate students.

* Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord.  Email address:kjairos@gmail.com

Staff Reporter
2019-08-09 08:09:46 | 9 months ago

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