University postgraduate system 'failing UK economy'

Laboratory The report says the UK's economy needs more home-grown postgraduate researchers

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The postgraduate system in the UK's universities is failing to produce the number of highly skilled staff needed by a modern economy, a report warns.

The Higher Education Commission says the system is geared towards attracting overseas students, rather than training more UK students.

The report warns that the UK is falling behind in investing in research.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokeswoman said: "We recognise there are some concerns."

The study from the Higher Education Commission calls for urgent reform of the postgraduate sector, saying that in its present state it will cause long-term problems for the UK's economy.

Postgraduate research has become increasingly important for innovative, hi-tech industries.

Tuition fees

But the Higher Education Commission, an independent group of education and business leaders, warns that the UK's current system seems to neglect UK students and instead is driven by universities wanting to recruit overseas students who pay high levels of tuition fees.

It says this risks making the UK the "education outsourcing capital of the world" - training international students rather than providing home-grown talent for UK firms.

Start Quote

The postgraduate sector needs to be brought in from the cold”

End Quote Graham Spittle Higher Education Commission and IBM chief technology officer

Without an expansion of UK postgraduate students, it will mean UK firms will have to recruit more staff from overseas - or even have to re-locate to countries with a higher skilled workforce, the report says.

"We can't compete with countries like China and India on numbers, but we can compete, and win, on ideas and innovation. The postgraduate sector needs to be brought in from the cold and hardwired into the UK's strategy for economic growth," said Graham Spittle, IBM's chief technology officer, who chaired the group preparing the report.

The report identifies the scale of the growth of overseas postgraduate students - up 200% since 1999 - compared with a rise of 18% for UK students.

Within the group of countries in the wider European education area, it says that apart from England and Wales, the only other countries to have so few home students staying on for postgraduate are Andorra and Kazakhstan.

It calls for a reform of the support available for postgraduate students - so that they will not be deterred by higher tuition fees or difficulties in getting loans.

Earlier this year a report from the 1994 Group of research intensive universities warned of a looming crisis in postgraduate education - with a warning that successive governments had failed to address the problems facing this sector.

The vice chancellor of Oxford University has also highlighted his concerns about the funding of postgraduate studies.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokeswoman said: "We have asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England to monitor and review participation in postgraduate study as part of a longer-term assessment of the impact of the funding changes."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    The problems are set to increase with current underfunding of education and research. You cannot move the country forwards and grow a healthy economy with entrenched priviledge for a select group. We need all the talent in the country to be tapped. Too many are traveling first class with second class tickets .... paid for by the plebs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    It will cost me £17k (fees plus living expenses) to study a postgraduate degree for 12 months. There are no student loans for uk postgraduate students that can fund an engineering masters. I'm having to save up part of the money so I can afford highstreet bank loan repayments when studying full time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Tories are ending BlueSky research at universities for a minority of ring-fenced institutes with directed agendas. 99% of important scientific discoveries are accidental (ask Tim Hunt (cell cycle and cancer) or Fleming (antibiotics) for example). Ring fencing does not work. Despite my successful work as a researcher, I'm out of a job in May. Ignore the lying government, there are no science jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    @ 79.JamesStGeorge
    Quite right. It is always somebody else’s fault, it could be the fault of the foreigners who study hard or could be the companies that do train locals or could be the weather, never the fault of lazy locals. So it is right that the companies pay to rectify this (wait a minute have I got my logic wrong?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Overseas students may bring in money now but education is supposed to an investment in this countrys future. It has joined a long list of things sold of for short term benefit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Just stop so many foreigners taking post graduate places.


  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    My step daughter gained her degree over 2 years ago. . . . . .And still works at the UCI Cinema!

    She worked her lil ass off, and gained a degree and a pile of debt, which she can't pay off due to the fact she's on minimum wage!

    If British graduates can't get jobs for which they are qualified, what hope is there for Britain in the future?

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    To best honest if I got a Phd, I would IMMEDIATELY emigrate to California - no use being a hero

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    The British establishment does not understand engineering and science very well

    =>Hah, well look at our ministers! The last gov even refused to listen to its scientific advisers and the tories hardly seem different. I doubt many of them could spell "science"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Articles like this are terrible. The post graduate environment should not be xenophobic as this article implies, it should provide on merit. I am currently being well funded on an EngD opportunity in Scotland. I am very grateful for government support and I am very impressed and inspired by the diversity of backgrounds at my parent company and research group.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The problem is not just with the Universities taking on overseas students for higher fees, or fees deterring home students, but subsistence support. Fully funded studentships, especially outside of engineering/physical sciences are few and far between. With a PhD taking 3-4 years, living off savings or loans is not practicable The part time option is no better, with drop out rates of up to 60%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The toprated comments recently on HYS ref doctor competency focussed on language ability.
    Why do we need so many immigrant doctors? The Universities are massively oversubscribed for medicine.
    Let's train more doctors here but make sure they then work in the NHS for x years rather than slope off overseas or into the private sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    @78. Vampire 'The PhD in Physics gets paid peanuts while the media studies BA gets 100k. Something wrong there.'

    Pretty sure there's something wrong there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Lets face it, UK academic science is on it's arse. Drastically reduced funding mean prospects for early career researchers are at an all time low. Stress levels are higher than they have ever been. Most sane postdocs are now wanting out. However, the private sector is not able to cope with the demand for jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Another point is (at my university anyway) the large proportion of international postgrad students are from the middle-east, particularly Iraq. Most I have spoken to are funded by the Iraqi government.

    I have heard (but cannot be sure) that there is a big push to educate (read: 'Westernise') these students, many of who seem to be prominent/experienced scientists already.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    The commodification of higher education is leading to it becoming a function of business. It will add to an unbalanced society. The need for expertise in subjects of interest to business will eclipse and possibly extinguish those that develop a humane society. We will become barbarians, ignorant of why we need to be succesful, disdainful of any subject that does not return immediate profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    right then gideon the fare dodger, go on demonstrate toi us your ability to perform a laplace transofrm then, if your degree is as useful as one in a science. you can follow this up by processing a 3rd order PDE, though you may have trouble finding out what a PDE is in the first place, eithr than or you can just acknowledge that you are talking rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    I'm half way through a (science/engineering) Ph.D. at Cambridge and the only opportunities I see in my field, whether in academia or industry, are abroad. I'm a UK student and want to contribute back to the economy that facilitated my education and more importantly my research. But it seems that the only place that supports the companies I would be able to work for is the States.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    I completed a PhD in Mechanical Engineering a couple of years ago. I worked from a large open plan office with around 100 other PhD students of which only a handful were from the UK. Many of the foreign research students had funding from their home government and an obligation to return to their home country to work for a minimum period after their PhD. Clearly not a boost to the UK economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    That's what happens when you try to get half of all kids into university, then bring in tens of thousands from abroad to study there as well. Watering down the universities was one of many insidious acts by the last government, and further represents the need for an institutional revolution in this country so we can have a real political choice.


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