In recent months the topic of undergraduate fees has once again come to the fore in the British media; particularly as it is being blamed for another fall in university applications this year. Similarly, The Guardian published a piece on Saturday discussing the effects that the changing funding landscape in the higher education sector was having on postgraduates.
Whilst I was reading this article it dawned on me that it was the first article I’d seen that was focused on the postgraduate perspective, the first since the tuition fee increase was passed in December 2010, which I found astonishing as postgraduates get a significantly worse deal than undergraduates.
Now don’t get me wrong, the increase in fees has made it marginally more financially difficult for undergraduate students, but it remains that maintenance loans for all and grants for those from poorer backgrounds make it possible for all to take a first bachelors degree.
For middle-income families, there is a squeeze that often has to made up by part-time work during studies. But before slamming the reformed funding structure, lets consider a taught Masters student who pays similar tuition fees, has the same living costs and yet receives no governmental loan for either.
That’s right, there are no typical loans for a Postgraduate Taught Course which leaves a gap of up to tens of thousands of pounds. Grants from research councils have dried up and so the only sources of large funding available to most postgraduates is a career development loan, which you to start repaying the year you finish and at a much higher interest rate than the standard student loan, currently around the 9/10% mark.
The picture for taught masters is rather bleak. Maintaining high levels of undergraduates is a good thing; it will deliver a more capable workforce that are able to easily move between different sectors but, as The Guardian mentioned, for many jobs there is a requirement for postgraduate qualifications. With more and more people going to university over the last decade, it has become a necessity for some to stand out from the crowd.
Making the masters course such an inhospitable place for UK students is a huge risk to many areas of the economy but most obviously to the future supply of PhD students and, in turn, lecturing staff.
I am very glad that senior university officials from a number of institutions, including Loughborough, are helping to bring this issue into the public domain. I hope that they are successful in securing some form of central funding for Masters students because without it numbers will continue to decline. That is not something anyone within the Higher Education Sector wants, particularly students.