No freeze on postgraduate roll

June 14, 1996

My colleague Mike Goldstein expresses his surprise (THES, June 7) that the proposal in the recent review of postgraduate education, which I chaired, to "freeze" the number of taught postgraduate students in institutions "seems to have gone almost unnoticed". This is not surprising, since we made no such proposal. On the contrary, we insist on exactly the opposite, for example in para 1.7 ("institutions should be free to continue to expand provision beyond their contract student numbers") and again in 5.26; we also make specific proposals in paras 5.58-5.61 to ensure that innovative proposals should be supported from earmarked funds.

What we did say, quite firmly, was that further expansion of postgraduate provision should not be at the system-wide expense of a further reduction in the unit of resource available to teach undergraduates. Dr Goldstein says that to suggest cross-subsidy from undergraduate provision is "insulting" - and yet that is exactly what has been happening on a very substantial scale in recent years. The resources to pay for the 11 per cent extra postgraduate students recruited in the last two years, given no new Treasury funds, have come directly from the (capped) resources available for undergraduates (or from fees, in some cases). It is precisely to stop or at least lessen this erosion of the quality of undergraduate provision, seen as essential by every one of our informants, that we made our proposal. If institutions feel able to continue this erosion locally, we say, so be it - but then the university in question must live with the consequences, not the system as a whole. I would be most surprised if the twin goals of maintaining the quality of undergraduate provision and of retaining maximum local managerial flexibility were not shared by all institutions.

Third, the present distribution of postgraduate students is said to be based, unfairly, on a division between pre- and post-1992 universities. However, it can be seen in Annex D to our report that within the top 50 institutions in terms of their total number of postgraduates, some 20 are post-1992 institutions, and that the third and fourth biggest providers are South Bank University and Manchester Metropolitan University. (OU: 11,600, Warwick 4,316, South Bank 4,248, MMU 4,131). Just to put that in perspective, Cambridge has 1,012, while here in Manchester, the University of Manchester has 2,702 and UMIST 776 compared with MMU's 4,131.

Finally, let me respond briefly to the rhetoric of Dr Goldstein's letter. My group was made up of the heads of a very diverse set of universities and colleges, together with representatives too of the research councils, employers and postgraduate students. Our report was unanimous. I venture to say that all of them would strongly rebut the suggestion that our report should "seek to be so diverse". It is intended to help to ensure that students, especially postgraduates, have a high quality experience in our universities and colleges. It would help, however, if the debate could focus on what we actually recommended, and why.

MARTIN HARRIS

Vice chancellor, University of Manchester

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