New universities protective of their share of the pot

March 4, 2010

As the battle over postgraduate funding heats up, a group of newer universities has moved to protect its share of the pot, rebuking those who "wrongly assume that postgraduate study is the province of a small number of universities".

A report launched this week by Million+ criticises calls from the 1994 and Russell groups of research-intensive universities for funding to be concentrated among the elite.

Les Ebdon and Pam Tatlow, chair and chief executive of Million+, write: "It is evident that some policymakers and other stakeholders wrongly assume that postgraduate study is the province of a small number of universities. In fact, research is integral to the role of any university."

The report, A Postgraduate Strategy for Britain: Expanding Excellence, Innovation and Opportunity, says that "modern universities deliver 37 per cent of all postgraduate provision in the UK", and that postgraduate provision is reliant on good teaching rather than a "critical mass" of research funding.

It adds that there is "no economic case to concentrate funding", which would "have the added disadvantage of damaging innovation" in universities that promote new areas of curriculum.

"Such a policy would also undermine any attempt to expand and support a more representative postgraduate student population in the UK and seriously limit opportunities for individuals and in particular black, Asian and minority ethnic students," it says.

However, the report offers no clear recommendations on financial support for postgraduates, which is seen as the key to widening access to doctoral study.

Instead, it confines itself to saying that there should be "detailed research" on the "merits of alternative funding and student support models".

A report by the League of European Research Universities offers an alternative view. Doctoral degrees beyond 2010: Training talented researchers for society, also published this week, says that national governments and the European Union should "encourage concentration of doctoral education in research-intensive institutions or organised groupings of institutions able to provide a strong research environment".

And in a speech given at Vitae's annual postgraduate conference last week, Paul Wellings, chair of the 1994 Group and vice-chancellor of Lancaster University, reiterated his call for a quality threshold on government funding for PhDs.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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