DEBT is deterring graduates from taking PhDs. Heads of research councils say the situation will worsen as tuition fees and higher loans are introduced this autumn. They are meeting to discuss ways of preventing talented graduates from poorer backgrounds being driven away from research.
Bob Price, director of human and corporate resources at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said: "There is concern that the quality of candidates for PhDs is going down." He said that some places are not being filled. At the BBRSC, ten of around 700 PhD places were not filled in 1997, while the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is finding it hard to attract good enough candidates.
"Whether this is because of student debt or the careers market being so much better is hard to tell," added Mr Price. "It's not particularly attractive when you are in two minds and you get jobs offering Pounds 15,000 and PhDs Pounds 6,000." He said there was major concern for the future when tuition fees and loans meant students might graduate with debts of between Pounds 10,000 and Pounds 15,000.
Richard Brook, chief executive of the EPSRC, said: "Indebtedness of graduates is a new element in the debate. The argument will have be addressed by the government after the comprehensive spending review"" A Royal Society spokesman confirmed "some of the most talented coming from poorer families might be deterred".
Among solutions could be an increase in the stipend paid by those who support research.