Postgraduate application fees ‘hit poorest students’

Researchers reveal huge differences in charges levied by Russell Group universities 

August 23, 2017
Tuition fee hike
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Large variations in the amount that leading UK universities charge for applications to postgraduate courses could be deterring poorer students from continuing their education.

This is according to research by recent University of York graduate Joshua Stubbs, and Paul Wakeling, professor in the department of education at the same institution, who ran a comparison of the application fees charged by Russell Group universities to students applying to study postgraduate degrees. They found that some institutions charged nothing, some only asked for a fee for certain courses (mainly business school programmes) and others had a blanket fee across all postgraduate programmes. 

The application fees levied by those institutions that do charge varied from £25 for certain courses at the University of Glasgow, to a general £75 at University College London and the University of Oxford. The next most expensive were the London School of Economics and Political Science (£65 for all courses) and Durham University (£60 on some programmes). The universities of Birmingham, Cambridge, Warwick, King’s College London and Imperial College London all charged £50 for at least some programmes.


Postgraduate application fees (Russell Group universities)

Fee description Fee level Institutions
No fees Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Queen Mary, Queen’s Belfast, Sheffield, Southampton, York
Fees for specific courses only £25 Glasgow
(Mainly business schools) £40 Newcastle
  £50 Birmingham, Imperial College London, King’s College London
  £60 Durham
General fee for all courses £40 Nottingham
£50 Cambridge, Warwick
£65 LSE
£75 Oxford, University College London


Writing for Times Higher Education, Mr Stubbs and Professor Wakeling say that the fees could disproportionately affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds – particularly those who were not receiving financial support to continue their studies.

“To put this in perspective, applying to Cambridge, LSE, Oxford, UCL and Warwick would cost £315, at an average of £63 per application,” they write. “This is more than 13 times [the cost] of an application made to study as an undergraduate through Ucas...for a 21-year-old on the minimum wage, £315 exceeds the earnings from a full-time working week. But even a £50 fee is a big ask for someone struggling to get by and without the option of parental subsidy.”

The pair add: “If access to postgraduate study is going to be prioritised, then fee-charging institutions need to consider potential barriers in the whole of their application process, especially for those from low-income or traditionally under-represented backgrounds.”

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