The largest postgraduate scholarship scheme ever run in the UK has been five times oversubscribed and offers a blueprint for a national programme of postgraduate support, its chair has said.
The £4.3 million programme, involving the universities of Sheffield, Leeds, York, Warwick, Manchester and Newcastle, offered 426 scholarships, worth between £10,000 and £15,000, to under-represented and disadvantaged students to undertake postgraduate taught courses – particularly those relating to the professions. Only 350 were originally advertised, but the universities came up with extra funding after receiving more than 1,700 eligible applications.
The universities committed to match-funding a £2.1 million contribution from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Postgraduate Support Scheme, which was launched last year to help address declining numbers of home students registering for taught postgraduate courses. The £25 million Hefce scheme is funding 20 pilot projects around the country to address the issue. The projects are due to report in September 2015, but Tony Strike, director of strategy, planning and change at the University of Sheffield and chair of the scholarship consortium, said he was keen to publicise the success of his scheme ahead of the chancellor’s Autumn Statement, which is expected to contain an announcement on postgraduate finance.
Some commentators have called for the establishment of a national loan scheme for postgraduates, but Dr Strike said the current concerns about the sustainability of the undergraduate loans scheme made that unrealistic. “But a targeted national scholarship scheme for home postgraduate students on the right widening participation criteria could be a very sensible thing to do,” he added.
A national scheme could be run either centrally by the government or by regional consortia of universities, Dr Strike said, adding: “There would be some advantage to universities doing it because we can advertise it to our own final-year students and alumni.” Consortia would be preferable to individual universities running their own schemes since graduates typically switch university to do their master’s, he argued.
“It is very telling that we are massively oversubscribed for what is the biggest postgraduate taught scholarship offer the country has seen,” Dr Strike said. “The message is clear. Home students are not turning away from postgraduate study because they lack the talent or the ambition. When you remove the financial barriers, there is an overwhelming demand to continue study to enter the professions.”