Study highlights fees deterrent for postgraduates

Higher fees for UK master’s courses are deterring students from continuing their studies and the deterrent is strongest for those from poorer backgrounds, according to a new study.

March 26, 2012

An analysis of fees by Philip Wales, a PhD student at the London School of Economics specialising in the economics of higher education, finds the average cost of taught postgraduate study rose from around £3,200 a year in 2003-04 to £4,300 in 2009-10.

The findings, to be presented at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society at the University of Cambridge, are billed by the RES as “the first comprehensive study on the effect of fees on postgraduate education in the UK”.

The study says a 10 per cent increase in postgraduate tuition fees is associated with a fall of between 1.7 per cent and 4.5 per cent in the probability of a student continuing their studies.

And it says undergraduate students from poorer backgrounds are less likely to progress to postgraduate study than wealthier students, even after controlling for their prior academic performance.

Students from the poorest socio-economic groups are between 1.8 per cent and 2.4 per cent less likely to progress than students from wealthier backgrounds, the study finds.

The study used the Freedom of Information Act to gather information from more than 150 universities on what master’s level courses were offered and what tuition fees were charged between 2003-04 and 2009-10. This was then used to construct a data set of postgraduate fees by subject and institution.

According to the RES, Mr Wales concludes that “while the most important predictor of postgraduate progression is prior academic performance, socio-economic group exerts a negative impact on progression rates. Policy change is needed to address this socio-economic gap.”

The society says that Mr Wales also recommends that the government “should commit to monitoring tuition fees at postgraduate level. Before this study, the lack of a single source of postgraduate fees data was a significant barrier to understanding changing patterns of demand for postgraduate study.”

The RES conference runs between 26 and 28 March.

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