Browne 'complacent' on postgrad support, says NUS

Survey points to taught postgraduate students' worries over the cost of courses. Paul Jump reports

October 28, 2010

The National Union of Students says it has produced new data showing that Lord Browne of Madingley was wrong to dismiss the case for giving taught postgraduate students the same level of state financial support as undergraduates.

The Browne Review says there is "no evidence" that any changes to student finance are needed to support "student demand or access" to such courses.

It adds that the recent expansion of taught postgraduate numbers has kept pace with the growth in undergraduate students, and "many" postgraduates have employer support or savings from previous jobs.

Lord Browne also claims that the benefits of taught postgraduate education are predominantly private rather than public.

But in a response published on 28 October, the NUS calls the analysis "complacent" and backs up its case with the results of its survey of nearly 2,500 UK taught postgraduate students.

The poll found that finance is a major factor for 70 per cent of full-time postgraduates, and 60 per cent of students overall, in deciding whether to undertake further study.

The 67 per cent of respondents who are entirely self-funded are most likely to have considered leaving or suspending their studies, while 52 per cent of those who receive some support with tuition fees say they would not have been able to study otherwise.

In the foreword to the report Broke and Broken: Taught Postgraduate Students or Funding and Finance, Aaron Porter, the NUS president, says he is "appalled" by Lord Browne's verdict on postgraduate finance.

Mr Porter argues that the survey results will allow the NUS to make the case "with conviction" that funding is a significant barrier to postgraduate access.

Malcolm McCrae, chair of the UK Council for Graduate Education, also lamented Lord Browne's "naive" and "extremely cursory" treatment of postgraduate issues. However, he said it was typical for higher education policy reviews to regard them as a "minor afterthought".

Paul Wakeling, lecturer in the department of educational studies at the University of York, cautioned that the NUS survey does not show whether finance constituted an actual barrier to postgraduate access, because it did not survey people who had chosen not to enter postgraduate study. He said such data were currently lacking.

However, he added that Lord Browne's observation that postgraduate numbers were growing did not show that there were no inequalities in access.

Dr Wakeling also said that data in the Browne Review purporting to show that the social background of postgraduates was similar to that of undergraduates were a misreading of Sutton Trust data on students who proceeded directly from undergraduate to postgraduate study. The social background of the large number of postgraduates who did not fit into that category was not known, he said.

He added that his own research suggested that academic rather than financial considerations were the key factors in immediate progression to postgraduate study, but economic factors were more significant for later entrants.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

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