New Fees Impact on Postgraduate Study

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What Does The New Fees Regime Mean For Postgraduate Study In The Uk?

Recent UK government policy means that this year’s undergraduate students now pay far more in fees than previous cohorts, with some universities charging £9000 per year. To encourage families who cannot afford this up-front, a system of loans has been set up. However, nothing has yet been decided on postgraduate fee support. Universities are campaigning for a similar sort of loan system to support postgraduate study, otherwise the skills and educational base of the country will decline and only the wealthiest students will be able to go on to postgraduate training.

What does this mean for those interested in postgraduate study now?

At the moment there are several options for funding a postgraduate degree. First are the research councils. However, these have now stopped funding the one year taught Masters and so research council grants are only available for PhDs or the research training ‘1 plus 3’ route, which involves undertaking a research masters and progressing immediately on to a PhD.

Second, there are internal awards financed by the universities themselves to support either maintenance or the costs of fees. These scholarships are offered by the university centrally, or a particular faculty or department. Increasingly these are very competitive and few are available.

Self-funding is also an option and there are many ways to do this. Banks will lend you the money to cover fees and maintenance as part of a ‘career development loan’. However, since 2008, banks have been more reluctant to lend and will only offer very high interest rates. Doing a qualification part time is also an option while working to support yourself and to pay your fees. This is possible for some people but juggling study, work and family commitments can be a real challenge.

Universities are pushing the government to make a decision on postgraduate funding before the first cohort of undergraduates to pay the higher fees begins to make decisions about future study in the autumn of 2014. However, waiting to see whether a loan system is introduced is a risky strategy and will also unnecessarily delay your career progression. So, if you decide to undertake postgraduate study, do not delay.

What does this mean for academics in UK universities?

The number of UK-based postgraduates at UK universities is already in decline and academics fear that uncertainty over fees support will exacerbate that problem. While for many institutions the numbers are being made up by overseas students signing up to postgraduate study, thus protecting some programmes, overseas student numbers are concentrated in certain subject areas so many courses are still vulnerable. Central university administrators are under increasing pressure to attract more postgraduates or to close unprofitable programmes.

As the 1994-group of universities argues, the decline in UK students going into postgraduate study is bad for the economic development of the country, but it will also negatively impact the universities because a lively postgraduate community is an essential part of university life. Postgraduate training is also an essential step on the career path for academics in most disciplines, so if fewer people are undertaking this training, in a few years this could spell a skills shortage in UK academia itself.

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