Postgrad support boosted as numbers fall

The government has announced a fund worth up to £125 million to support disadvantaged students into further study, as a new report reveals postgraduate numbers fell last year.

July 2, 2013

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Higher Education Funding Council for England said today that an initial £25 million fund will distribute grants of between £500,000 and £3 million to universities and colleges to attract and support disadvantaged students into postgraduate study.

After “studying its success”, the government will then invest an additional £50 million in “removing financial or cultural barriers to participation in postgraduate education”.

This part of the funding had already been announced in last week’s spending round for 2015-16, which revealed that the £150 million National Scholarship Programme would be scrapped for undergraduates and relaunched as a £50 million fund for postgraduates.

Extra funding “will be expected from universities and businesses”, BIS said, bringing the total amount targeting postgraduates to around £125 million.

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said: “Postgraduate study is good for students, good for universities, and good for the economy.

“We want talented graduates from all backgrounds to feel inspired and able to continue their education.”

A Hefce report, also published today and titled Postgraduate education in England and Northern Ireland: overview 2013, summarises the first 18 months of work carried out by the funding council’s new postgraduate team.

“The data that we have investigated show that after a period of steady growth, there have been some recent declines in postgraduate student numbers,” Hefce says in the report.

“This is particularly true in postgraduate taught (PGT) programmes, which are mainly master’s degree courses, and in ‘Other postgraduate’ (Other PG) courses, which are mostly regulated vocational courses in areas such as education and healthcare, including postgraduate certificates of education (PGCEs).”

Taught postgraduate numbers fell 3 per cent between 2010-11 and 2011-12, while “other postgraduate” numbers fell 11 per cent.

However, the long-term trend has been for growth: overall postgraduate numbers were up 26 per cent in 2011-12 when compared with 2002-03, the report shows.

On funding, Hefce says: “Our work shows that most students are self-funded, especially on taught courses. The majority of PGT students (72 per cent) have no financial backing and so must finance their studies themselves or via a bank loan.

“Not all students are eligible for the loans available, and take up is low even by those students who are, perhaps because of the repayment terms which are harsh compared to the undergraduate student loan.”

Meanwhile, Hefce has also announced that a new higher education student engagement partnership unit, hosted by the National Union of Students (NUS), will work to involve students more fully as partners in their own higher education.

The unit, jointly funded by Hefce, the NUS, the Association of Colleges and GuildHE, “will work to support a vision of students and their representative bodies as partners in the educational experience”.

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