Universities – a third of which will charge the maximum £9,000 for all their undergraduate courses in 2015-16 – have argued that £9,000 does not cover the real costs of teaching and lobbied for the cap to increase in line with inflation.
A study by accountants KPMG for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, published on 19 December, looked at the costs of postgraduate provision in order to “inform future policy decisions” on postgraduate study.
George Osborne, the chancellor, announced in this month’s Autumn Statement that income-contingent loans of up to £10,000 would be offered to students under 30 on taught postgraduate courses.
The Hefce study also collected figures on undergraduate costs from 17 universities, ranging from Russell Group institutions such as the universities of Birmingham and Manchester to post-1992 institutions such as the universities of Sunderland and the West of England.
The average undergraduate costs in individual subjects ranged from law (£5,539) and sociology (£5,581) at the bottom end to mineral, metallurgy and materials engineering (£11,078) and earth, marine and environmental sciences (£11,104) at the top end.
Clinical medicine (£12,573) and clinical dentistry (£13,965) were the most expensive undergraduate subjects.
The study collected disaggregated postgraduate taught and undergraduate costs included in universities’ annual returns for Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) and TRAC-T (the methodology for costing the teaching element).
The 17 universities involved supplied data on undergraduate and postgraduate costs, while an additional five postgraduate-only institutions supplied data on postgraduate costs.
Based on this sample “the cost of teaching a Hefce-fundable postgraduate [full-time equivalent] FTE student is £11,315”, the study says. “The cost of teaching a Hefce-fundable undergraduate FTE student for the same HEIs is £7,694. Therefore, according to the data in this study, the cost of teaching postgraduate students is 1.47 times (47 per cent) higher than undergraduate teaching.”
Data in the study indicates that “staff cost of postgraduate teaching is more than twice the staff costs at undergraduate level”, it says. Anecdotal evidence from institutions suggests that postgraduate class sizes are smaller and “more experienced and expensive teaching staff” are required to teach the courses, the study adds.