Funding postgraduates

March 29, 1996

A crucial issue has been overlooked amid the discussions provoked by the Dearing review. I refer to the provision and funding of postgraduate studies, particularly at masters level, which requires urgent restructuring.

It is now extremely difficult for humanities students, even with first-class degrees, to obtain a state studentship, and appropriate loan schemes simply do not exist. At the same time, we are faced by increasing demand and need for masters courses in all subject areas. Recent decades have seen an explosion in the knowledge base in all academic subjects, while undergraduate curricula have been inexorably attenuated. Furthermore, British honours degrees are not recognised in practice by many of our European Union partners, notwithstanding their legal obligations.

As we move in the direction of Americanisation of British higher education, I would suggest that Dearing consider the following proposals: provision of income-contingent loans for postgraduates on masters courses, so that the research councils and the British Academy can concentrate resources on doctoral work; such loans to be available only to students following nationally accredited masters programmes; accreditation to involve external validation of course content, and to be conditional on institutionally sustainable resourcing in the areas of staff expertise, library provision, etc.

It may well be that many departments and institutions would be unable to meet the stringent criteria required to ensure adequate postgraduate provision, and this in itself would limit the number of loan-funded places available. On the other hand, quality control at postgraduate level has been neglected for far too long by British universities. The Dearing review gives us an excellent opportunity significantly to expand and improve postgraduate education in the UK.

S. K. Giles, Department of German, University of Nottingham

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