2. Institutions, regions and students

November 12, 2004


In England, postgraduate student numbers have risen fastest in new universities and colleges. Between 1995-96 and 2002-03, postgraduate numbers in these institutions climbed by 65 per cent, from 103,701 to 170,855. This represents a substantial increase in the share of the postgraduate population compared with old universities.

For overseas postgraduate numbers, the figures are startling. Overseas student numbers at new universities jumped from 10,048 in 1995-96 to 34,700 in 2002-03. Consequently, the new university share of overseas postgraduates almost doubled.

Postgraduate taught students are widely dispersed across all universities.

The Open University educates more than twice as many as any other UK institution. Westminster and City universities come next, and both remain highly placed when allowance is made for their high numbers of part-time students. A list of top ten providers shows huge variation from large new universities, such as London Metropolitan and Manchester Metropolitan universities, to smaller universities, such as City and Warwick, which have very high concentrations.

By contrast, postgraduate research students are highly concentrated in a relatively small number of multi-faculty universities with established research reputations. Cambridge University is a long way ahead of other institutions. It has 44 per cent more postgraduate research students than second-placed Oxford.

Not surprisingly, it is these research universities that produce the research students. A graduate from Cambridge is six times more likely to proceed directly to a research degree programme than the average graduate in an English institution.


Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland depend heavily on their own universities and colleges to provide postgraduates.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, this seems to reflect low levels of mobility and the ability of local institutions to satisfy the demands of employers.

In Wales, there is more mobility, but it is mostly in one direction: the number of postgraduates leaving Wales for employment is more than twice as great as the number entering the country. Wales may need to create more postgraduate-level jobs to benefit fully from current levels of postgraduate provision.

No English region is as successful as Scotland and Northern Ireland in retaining its postgraduates. But both the Northeast and the Northwest are highly dependent on local universities and colleges for their postgraduate labour and successful in retaining a high proportion of them. The case for investing monies for regional development in postgraduate provision is strongest in these regions.

Conversely, the East, the East Midlands, the Southeast and the West Midlands are characterised by high mobility in both directions. They are not particularly successful at retaining postgraduates studying in the region, nor are they very dependent on local institutions to supply postgraduate labour: they seem to be attractive to postgraduate workers from across the country. For these regions, investment of resources earmarked for regional development in postgraduate provision would be poor value.


Postgraduate students tend to be over 30, increasingly from overseas and, if from the UK, female.

The common perception that most postgraduates come straight from their undergraduate courses is misleading. Most entrants to all types of postgraduate course are older than 22, and there are more first-year postgraduates above the age of 30 than below the age of 25.

Part-time students tend to be older still, most being over 30. The over-30s make up a large majority of part-time students starting every type of course.

Women make up 59 per cent of first-year UK postgraduates, 61 per cent of part-timers and 56 per cent of full-timers. But in full-time study for research degrees, they are outnumbered by men, who make up 55 per cent of students.

Overseas students dominate on certain courses. Almost half (48 per cent) of full-time taught masters students are from countries outside the EU. This rises to 63 per cent if full-time taught masters students from other EU countries are included. Overseas students make up 34 per cent among the smaller numbers of full-time research students.

Students studying for research degrees are more likely to have achieved first-class degrees than other graduates. Those studying for taught postgraduate qualifications, by contrast, have a similar profile to the general graduate population.

Postgraduate education in the UK
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