Set up by the Higher Education Commission, which includes figures from politics, business and the education sector, the inquiry will examine the role of postgraduate study in maintaining Britain’s knowledge economy.
It will also look at the issue of postgraduate funding, which was overlooked by the Browne Review and the higher education White Paper, and look at the idea of a possible state-backed loans system similar to that created for undergraduates.
The commission’s members include Lord Broers, former vice-chancellor of University of Cambridge, Sir Deian Hopkin, former vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, and senior parliamentarians from all three main political parties.
Inquiry chairman Graham Spittle, chief technology officer at IBM, said: “It is an area that has been overlooked recently.
“With all the changes to undergraduate fees, we have really taken our eye off what is happening further up in postgraduate education.
“If you talk to vice-chancellors, most of them are very concerned about the increased undergraduate fees and its impact on postgraduate study. We will look at how it will affect postgraduate education”.
Dr Spittle said it was vital to maintain a healthy postgraduate sector because it was the “bedrock of innovation and enterprise” in the UK.
The inquiry will visit several universities and hold witness seminars before delivering its report in June or July, he added.
“We urgently need a proper strategy for postgraduate education,” Dr Spittle said.
“This inquiry will conduct an evidence-based review of current provision and structures and set out what more the postgraduate system can do to facilitate innovation and deliver the research, knowledge exchange and skilled workforce required for continued success.”