Link postgraduate expertise to enterprise, review says

Report recommends tailoring provision to secure high-value business for the UK. John Gill writes

March 31, 2010

Postgraduate provision must be tailored to deliver skills to business, with funding linked explicitly to achieving this goal, according to a long-awaited review.

In a report published today, One Step Beyond: Making the Most of Postgraduate Education, the review panel sets out a strategy for the postgraduate sector that, it says, “will be critical to securing the location of high-value business in the UK”.

The review, commissioned by Lord Mandelson, the First Secretary, was led by Adrian Smith, director general of science and research at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The report says the value that postgraduate education brings to the UK is “under-researched and under-appreciated”. Universities UK and Research Councils UK should do more to highlight its “economic and social value”, it adds.

On this theme, the report says employers expect postgraduates to have skills that go beyond a narrow area of study and include “business awareness”.

Universities “should ensure that transferable skills training is embedded as standard in the funding and design of all postgraduate research programmes”, it recommends.

The report goes on to say that to “maximise economic performance…we need to ensure that we supply the right skills”, and it calls on the Higher Education Funding Council for England, among others, to do more to determine what employers need.

It also suggests that Hefce could do more to target funding to “stimulate supply and demand in strategically important areas” at postgraduate level.

“There is scope for more funding for postgraduate provision to be allocated in this way – particularly in areas where a small number of postgraduates may have a disproportionate effect on securing economically valuable business activity in the UK,” it says.

The review also addressed the international competitiveness of postgraduate provision in the UK.

About half of all international students in the UK are postgraduates but, the report notes, it will be “increasingly challenging” to maintain this flow in the face of global competition.

It acknowledges that the new points-based visa system has led to some “long processing delays” that have “prevented legitimate, high-calibre postgraduates” from taking up places. “There is a risk that this will damage the reputation of the UK,” it says.

In the face of growing competition, the review team recommends that RCUK should “examine ways of opening up more postgraduate research studentships to international students”, which it says should be done on “a strategic, discipline-specific basis”.

Finally, the report turns its attention to funding, with a warning that universities “should ensure that their financial sustainability is not overly reliant on tuition fees from overseas taught postgraduates”.

It cites the government strategy of “supporting a world-class research base by focusing quality-related research funding in excellent research centres, and encouraging collaboration between high-performing smaller research groups”.

“To get best value from limited resources, public funding that supports postgraduate research students should also be targeted in areas of excellence,” it says.

To achieve this, it says Hefce should consider linking future allocations of the research degree supervision grant more explicitly to research quality, rather than volume.

Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield and an adviser on the review panel, said: “Postgraduate education in the UK is a great asset – it is world leading in many areas. There is much to celebrate about the performance of the postgraduate sector in recent years, but there is more we need to do to respond to national and international challenges. After considerable debate, we have produced a set of recommendations that we have all agreed will enhance and strengthen postgraduate education in the UK.”

To read the report

A full copy of the review is available at the BIS website

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