Care, relationships and postgraduate students: no ‘one size fits all’.

Care, relationships and postgraduate students: no ‘one size fits all’.

Care, relationships and postgraduate students: no ‘one size fits all’.

Recently I tutored 16 postgraduate students; all working, all at different stages of their lives and with different responsibilities, one recovering from a serious illness, others in the midst of career changes – and it became clear to me as their tutor that making education all about people was paramount.

Whilst there was a mandatory curriculum taught at University, and a large percentage of self-study via a virtual campus, every one of these students was unique in the way they studied, in the way they understood the world, and in their personal circumstance.

It soon became clear that there was no ‘one size fits all’ and that each student needed individual consideration to support them through their Masters programme.

Whilst study methods play their part in a University degree, do we stop to consider how key the relationships are between tutor and student within the learning process? Do we support them as people who are richly diverse and unique, and whose learning needs, styles, and rhythms in life differ?

As a tutor it was deeply important to take time to get to know everyone, engaging with each student, and with the students as a group, so as to know how best to support each and every one of them equally – so that no one student was left out or left behind.

The beauty of this approach was how each student was then able to develop a focussed plan for their own studies going forward, realising where their own strengths were and what helped them to study best.

As these students progressed through their two-year part-time Masters programme, it was simple for me as a tutor to work with them with the understanding of who they are and how they each study. One may need encouragement, another may require confirmation they are on track, another may need a gentle steering when they get distracted, another may need a reminder of the timescales and pathway, and another may need more technical support, but whatever it is they are all equal, and in this tutor group they are treated as such – bringing out their strengths and honouring who they are.

With this as a foundation a playfulness and equality has developed amongst the group and they have been able to offer each other insightful feedback that has helped them on their pathway of study. Each one, in their own way, has blossomed in the realisation of what they bring to the group, recognising their own unique abilities.

Education without relationships is cold and for the student it can be a lonely place. Competing for higher marks, students often are in constant comparison with other students and feel downbeat when they don’t achieve what their peers ‘achieve’.

On getting to know each of the students, it is deeply humbling to feel the gold they each are – with or without high marks and indeed, with or without the postgraduate study. What I have learned from this tutor group more than anything else, is that engaging fully with students and supporting a space amongst them for honest, open and real discussion is where the true learning takes place. Indeed, small miracles happen right in front of your eyes as a student realises how much they already know, and how much value they already are, as they have ‘light-bulb’ moments of deeper understanding of their subject, themselves and humanity.

Education is not just about systems, processes, structures, or linear pathways. Education is all about engaging people back to their innate, childlike wonderment, their natural hunger for learning, and supporting them to find their own way through the program in a way that honours who they are.

Education is all about care and relationships; it is fundamentally about people, and from this real learning can take place.

Real human connection and relationship form the foundation upon which students can not only learn and grow, but indeed flourish. And these, the relationships, form the ‘golden thread’ that runs through their study years, not just the achievement of academic results.


  • [i]

    Grove, Jack (2013). 8 percent drop in UK students entering postgraduate study. The Times. Retrieved 10th January,2014 from> </li>

  • [ii]

    Paton, Graham (2013). Students priced out of exclusive postgraduate courses. The Telegraph. Retrieved 15th June, 2014 from

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  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd