Only 56 per cent of students that planned to do postgraduate study in 2013 went on to do so within six months, and the proportion was even lower for black and minority ethnic, disabled and mature students.
Meanwhile, 65 per cent of undergraduates who wanted to start a postgraduate course said that course fees were a factor that would affect their decision.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England analysed two sets of data to come to the conclusions. It looked at data from the 2013 Intentions After Graduation Survey, which surveys final-year undergraduates at English universities about their future plans, and the 2012-13 Destinations of Leavers in Higher Education study, to see how many students realised any ambitions of postgraduate study.
“While 17 per cent of all graduates intended to study for a postgraduate qualification in 2013, half of them (56 per cent) actually did so,” says Hefce in a summary report.
The progression rate to postgraduate study for black and minority ethnic students who wanted to start such courses was lower than the overall total, at 45 per cent. This compares with 55 per cent for white students, for example.
A lesser proportion of disabled and mature undergraduates with the desire to study at the next level went on to do so than the overall average. Only 48 per cent of the disabled students started a postgraduate course within six months of graduating, compared with 57 per cent of those not disabled, and 60 per cent of young graduates did so compared with 47 per cent of mature graduates.
For students from the lowest participation areas, 51 per cent who wanted to embark on further study went on postgraduate courses compared with 64 per cent of those from the highest participation areas.
Results of the 2014 IAGS survey have also been released by Hefce and show that the intention to study at postgraduate level is highest among black and ethnic minority, mature and disabled students.
The findings come in the same month that the government announced that a state-backed postgraduate loan scheme would be introduced from 2016-17 for students under the age of 30. Meanwhile, an additional £50 million will be given to universities to offer bursaries for master’s students in 2015-16 on a match-funded basis.
“Given this clear evidence that finance is a barrier to progression to postgraduate study, Hefce welcomes the government’s commitment to provide £10,000 scholarships for 10,000 students studying for master’s qualifications in 2015-16, and to develop a postgraduate loan scheme to address both the unmet demand and the finance barriers evidenced in the recent IAGS survey,” Hefce said in a statement.
General secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, said: “This report sadly shows how thousands of people who want to continue their studies fall by the wayside because of financial worries, particularly mature students and those from the poorest backgrounds.”
She added: “While it was positive to see the government try to address the crisis in postgraduate funding, we are not convinced encouraging people to accrue more debt is the best way to attract the best and brightest into further study.”