Postgraduate projects gain £25 million from Hefce

More than £25 million has been awarded by England’s funding council to 20 pilot projects designed to support postgraduate students.

December 9, 2013

The scheme will provide a test bed for new ways of supporting students in their progression from undergraduate to postgraduate taught courses.

It aims to improve access for students who may not otherwise have the means to study at this level, as well as target specific growth areas of the economy set out by the government.

Funding postgraduate education has become an increasingly important area of debate in higher education during recent years. The 2011 government White Paper that resulted in increased tuition fees for undergraduates raised concerns about a potential knock on effect of postgraduate numbers under the new regime.

The unregulated nature of postgraduate fees and the lack of financial support available to students were among the worries.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England issued a call for proposals to help address these issues in July and today announced the winning projects. They will be launched between January 2014 and August 2015 and involve more than 40 universities and 2,800 students.

Chris Pole, pro vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, which got £1.5 million to design courses where students spend significant amounts of time in industry during study, said that postgraduate studies are one of the “neglected areas” in widening participation of higher education.

“The postgraduate angle is equally important to universities and it is not an area where we have seen a great deal of structured intervention or support.”

A range of different support activities have been proposed by the successful universities, including novel funding mechanisms, re-vamping courses with industry, mentoring and work experience.

Steve Egan, interim chief executive of Hefce said the variety of proposals was “impressive”. He added: “We will work closely with the projects to see what is working well and to communicate this widely to build strong foundations for this critical aspect of higher education.”

The largest award, at £3 million, has gone to the University of Oxford to provide a match-funded scholarship programme and internships to encourage students from under-represented groups, as well as research into access to postgraduate study at the institution.

Meanwhile, a consortium of six northern universities led by the University of Sheffield will talk to current third-year undergraduates and two cohorts of recent alumni to better understand the barriers to progressing to postgraduate study.

Tony Strike, director of strategy, planning and change at Sheffield, said that 25 per cent of undergraduates from Russell Group universities aspire to continue to postgraduate study but only 10 per cent do so.

He said the project would identify the barriers that prevent students from progressing and use the information to inform actions designed to help overcome them. 

At Brunel University, £1.5 million will be spent to address the lack of women on engineering courses, as well as support an industrial master’s course.

The women in engineering project will provide 40 studentships at a value of £1,250 per month for women on 16 engineering and computing courses at the university.

A further £200,000 has been secured from businesses and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers to help support the scheme.

Among other projects, Hefce has awarded Durham University £1.2 million to explore the idea of a credit union that would offer tuition fee loans at low costs for students.

Rachel Wenstone, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, cautioned that although the announcement was a “great step forward” there is still more work to do to get a “fair and sustainable funding solution” for students and institutions. “We will be closely monitoring the legacy that these trials leave behind and will campaign for these support systems to be permanent and continued,” she added.

A panel of staff from Hefce’s strategic advisory committees, the UK Council for Graduate Education and the NUS decided which projects to fund.

In 2012, Hefce decided to offer £200 million in additional recurrent funding for taught and research postgraduate courses from 2012-13 to 2014-15.

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