Join the UK PostGrad Club if you can

A new report his highlighted that lack of funding available for UK postgraduate study.

The CentreForum report was written by influential figures from business and education, who are joined by a belief that there should be better postgraduate funding for students. The report – backed by Julian Hupper, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge – has chapters written by the British Academy, Confederation of British Industry (CBI), GuildHE, Higher Education Commission, National Union of Students (NUS), Russell Group, Sutton Trust and respected economists Joanne Lindley and Stephen Machin.

Likening UK postgraduate education to an “exclusive golf club”, the report is critical of the fact that top tier postgraduate courses in the UK are for the UK and world’s wealthy. The report claims this to be driven by rising costs of tuition and real term cuts in research and funding council support. Despite the rising value of such postgraduate courses in the global workplace, there is a falling number of home student enrolments.

The report is highly critical of the Professional and Career Development Loan (PCDL) scheme, discribing it as “breathtakingly inadequate”. However, the UK’s Universities Minister, David Willetts, wishes to expand the scheme.

Only a very small number of postgraduate students have been able to secure funding from the PCDL and the repayment terms have been widely criticised. Even the famed MoneySavingExpert website in the UK urges potential applicants to take personal loans to repay funding from the PCDL upon graduation.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has also contirbuted to a chapter in the report, uring the government to scrap the PCDL scheme. NUS and CentreForum would both prefer to see a similar loan system as used for undergraduate students.

The report also calls for action from the universities themselves. More should be down to expand their endowment capacity and access of financial markets to create their own loan funds for postgraduate students. The report also asks for universities to collect much needed data on funding arrangements and the suppressed demand for postgraduate study due to economic concerns.

Julian Huppert MP, who wrote the foreword to the report, said:

“Successive higher education reviews have swept this issue under the carpet. Social mobility and the economy are suffering as a result, and people are being deprived of opportunities. We need to review postgraduate funding as a matter of urgency.”

Rachel Wenstone, NUS Vice-President (Higher Education), said:

“Thousands of talented people are denied the chance to go into postgraduate education simply because they don’t have access to the ready cash needed to pay the fees upfront. You increasingly have to be either extremely rich, extremely lucky, or take an extreme gamble, taking on dangerous levels of debt, to take a master’s in this country.”

“A master’s degree improves your chances of finding a job, leads to higher salaries and opens all kinds of doors, and the reduced unemployment and economic growth that comes with that helps the economy too. Rather than pushing to expand the current disastrously failing system the government need to listen to experts and find an alternative that provides real support for students to pay their fees and support themselves while they study.”

Tom Frostick, co-editor of the report, said:

“Everyone agrees that widening access to postgraduate study is the right course of action. It is time that something is done about it.”

Key recommendations from the report:

  • Government should prioritise the collection of data to establish whether current funding arrangements are suppressing demand for postgraduate education
  • A representative pilot should be commissioned to test the postgraduate loans models put forward by CentreForum and NUS
  • Government should amend Home Office rules on the employment of overseas students in the UK workforce after finishing their studies
  • Funding and scholarship models for postgraduate research should be structured around a four year minimum period of study (not three)
  • Groups of universities should source funds from financial markets and use the money raised from bond issuances as a facility for postgraduate students to access
  • The tax treatment of large donations to universities should be made simpler to incentivise giving and help institutions increase their endowment capacity
  • Universities should link a proportion of their endowment funding to a postgraduate scholarship programme targeted at students from low income backgrounds
  • Successful collaboration between universities and business should be actively promoted by the sector
  • As a matter of urgency, universities must review their flexible learning arrangements to ensure they can cater for students who do not wish to commit to full time postgraduate study

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