Poor students less likely to pick ‘golden triangle’ for master’s

Working-class graduates half as likely to move to Oxford, Cambridge or elite London institutions

August 23, 2019
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Working-class students are half as likely as those with wealthier parents to move to a university in the UK’s “golden triangle” for a master’s degree, even if they match them academically, a study reveals.

Researchers from the University of York who analysed data on 35,000 students said that the results indicated that graduates from less privileged backgrounds were deterred by the cost of postgraduate study at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and  at London’s leading institutions – and that publicly funded loans were insufficient to cover these costs.

Among students who moved university for a master’s, 24 per cent of graduates whose parents had top-level managerial and professional jobs moved to a golden triangle institution after finishing their bachelor’s degree in 2016-17. In contrast, only 11 per cent of those whose parents had routine occupations headed there, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey.

When considering only students who got a first, the gap remained, standing at 36 per cent to 20 per cent, according to researchers José Luis Mateos-González and Paul Wakeling; and it persisted even when looking only at students who went to similar sorts of institutions for their bachelor’s.

Alongside Oxford and Cambridge, Imperial College London, King’s College London, the London School of Economics and UCL are considered to be golden triangle universities.

Mr Mateos-González, a research associate in higher education at York, said that the results revealed “almost an extension of what we know about undergraduate admissions”.

“It is most likely that students from poorer backgrounds are put off by financial issues,” he told Times Higher Education.

Students enrolling on a master’s degree programme in 2017-18 had access to a government-backed loan capped at £10,280 (students starting this autumn get £10,906). This would be unlikely to cover course fees at leading universities, which tend to have higher than average fees, and would leave students to fund their living costs – in some of the UK’s most expensive cities – from other sources.

According to the latest survey of views conducted by the Complete University Guide, the average home student fee for a classroom-based master’s at Cambridge this year is £14,008. At Oxford, fees range from £10,460 to £16,415.

“It appears that pathways to elite institutions are closed off at entry to higher education,” Mr Mateos-González said. “Our study shows that more work needs to be done to support disadvantaged students in master’s study and to understand the barriers they are facing.”

Students from working-class backgrounds were less likely to move institution for a master’s in the first place: 66.5 per cent of those who progressed to a master’s stayed at their first-degree institution, compared with 52.1 per cent of the most privileged graduates.

The study was presented at the annual conference of the European Sociological Association, held in Manchester.


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Reader's comments (1)

More research to discover the BO ( Bleeding Obvious) answer!!!. Surprise, surprise: market economics works again. Higher prices can prevent those with lower incomes / less wealth "buy" things like "housing" in expensive cities. Where is the evidence that the Universities listed deliver a better education / exceptional learning? Even if the evidence existed, why should tax payers fund the journey and thereby prevent other Universities retain the best talent?