At masters level these groups had lower than average rates of progression, falling to an “exceptionally low” rate for research degrees, says a report commissioned by the Higher Education Academy.
“The very small numbers of graduates progressing to higher degrees from certain groups…means that very few such individuals are part of the supply ‘pipeline’ for those careers requiring postgraduate qualifications for entry,” reads the report.
“Sectors employing doctoral graduates –including, of course, higher education itself – thus face a regrettable lack of diversity in their workforce,” it adds.
Meanwhile within taught higher degrees, groups with Black African, Chinese and other Asian backgrounds had higher rates of progression, above white graduates and those of Indian and Pakistani ethnicity.
The study – which looked at full-time UK and EU domiciled first degree graduates completing their studies in 2009-10 and 2010-11 – also shows that women graduates progressed to postgraduate education at a lower rate than men, even taking into account difference in attainment and subject choice.
Across almost all subjects the percentage of men progressing to a taught master’s was generally around two percentage points higher than for women.
Meanwhile men’s rate of progression to research degree was “essentially twice that of women’s”, the report says.
The figures, derived from Higher Education Statistics Agency data, also show that inequalities exist between graduates of different social class and attending different institutions.
Graduates from the 30 most selective institutions progressed to a master’s degree at one-and-a-half times the rate of those from other institutions, and to a doctorate at almost five times the rate, says the report.
The HEA said the research, by Paul Wakeling and Gillian Hampden-Thompson at the University of York, would form a useful baseline when looking at the impact of recent increases in undergraduate fees on postgraduate study – a current focus of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
“Just as widening participation at undergraduate level reaches out to pupils in low participation neighbourhoods, there is a case for targeting high-achieving graduates from the less selective institutions,” said Dr Wakeling.
Writing in the report’s foreword, HEA chief executive Craig Mahoney said the situation “plainly isn’t good enough”.
“The postgraduate population should reflect the full range of talent and diversity in the population as a whole,” he said.