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 200.

    In the 70s (my era as a student) MScs were for students who wanted to specialise after graduation. They were respected. Now every university has expanded the 'zero base' requirements of the vocational MBA and included many other MScs that are, as many commenters have suggested, money making devices. What is comical is that they try to hide behind a 'quality' or 'teaching excellence' label.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    189: AI

    I totally agree that qualifications are only of real value if they are relevant.
    But if you want more UK national Postgrads, you need visible role models that have used it as a rout to social progression.

    By letting under qualified old boys run the country, we send the message that connections trump qualifications!

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    We need to know the scale and numbers needed in various subjects, year on year. Then we can plan to totally fund that number of places, awarded on merit in a UK-wide competition of UK citizens, so long as they commit to working for so many years in jobs that feed back into the UK economy at a given rate. However, I suspect neither the political will nor the ability in UK industry is there to do it

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    The problem, as far as I am concerned is that education is now out of reach for people like me, 30 somethings, with a wife, children and debts. I cannot afford the massive debts and the uncertain future carrying that debt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Come on BBC. Let's have some facts. Write down the degree subjects of a) all the cabinet and b) all the opposition front bench and c) all the top civil servants. Collate them and publish. I bet you any money there are very few scientists. Yet through that prism is our economic well-being decided......

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    As an overseas PhD, I had an insight into the problems of the UK Postgraduate education. I agree with one of the comments that stated that the UK Universities became machines for printing titles. After obtaining both my MSc and now finishing my PhD, I had to ask my supervisors to treat me no differently than they would treat home-students. I met UK-peers who lacked sufficient academic knowledge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    There is a reason there are few British born people going through engineering (I speak as an engineer).

    Engineering talent is often past from father to son, for the last 30 years engineers have been treated as an 'oily rag', so we've been telling our kids 'don't whatever you do go into engineering', or we've been telling our kids to emigrate.

    To the establishment: We're not stupid.. you are!

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    I'm a PhD student at a top uni. It is extremely competitive to get a PhD studentship and those successful tend to be enormously skilled. However only UK/EU students can get RC funding,

    Masters courses on the other hand are enormously targeted toward oversea students and tend to have lower entry requirements. They are mostly taught courses with little thought required and hardly build skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    I am a mature post graduate (60).

    I applied for a position that was well within the scope of my qualification, and when refused an interview asked why. Despite having experience in a host of relevant fields, and being distinctly world wise I was told that if I could spend a year or two working for them without wages I may be considered for an interview! Takes exploitation to a new level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.


    You completely miss how the business world works. It sells what people will pay for. Govt under funds HE ergo the Unis have to offer courses students will pay to do......the market decides what is useful & the market doesn't worry about just whines to Govt about it after avoiding paying the taxes to fund education.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    The problem has been a degree is seen as pretty useless now, unless it is from a Top Uni or in applicable subject. The amount of people in my workplace with Psychology and Media degrees is laughable. What is also obvious is their life skills are pretty crap as they have hidden in school till 23-24yrs old . Do away with nonsense degrees and cut the places available and redirect into science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    187: Dandalf

    Gordon Brown has a PhD in History which clearly didn't help him perform in his role. Perhaps those in political office would be better served having industry experience (or at the very least educational experience) of the office they are responsible for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    PaulWelsh90 For a post grad student from a top four uni you seem to have totally missed the point. Its not peolple bleating they can't get a job. Its the opposite! Its company's bleating they can't get the calibre of people they require. You must try and always answer the question asked not the one you would like to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Democracy reward popularity and charisma over intelligence and learning.
    Capitalism rewards shrewdness and deception over clear communication.
    As much as our society extols the virtue of the literati, it puts no power in their hands!

    Perhaps making a PhD a minimum requirement for standing for political office could go some way to repair that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    For 30 years UK govts have told Universities to work like "proper businesses" and not rely on State handouts. They tried various money-making ideas, like commercialising IPR, but found that the easiest way to get cash was to sell degrees to foreigners. And now the govt is upset with them for not pandering to its specific economic needs. How bizarre!

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    PaulWelsh90; Yes, because your narrow experience counts for the rest of society. Get a grip, fandan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    The reason UK Universities seek foreign students is they are underfunded. I wonder if IBMs CTO could comment on how many Postgraduate places IBM sponsor? If Industry want the Postgraduate sector to help drive innovation in the UK they need to back it financially. My PhD was sponsored by Panasonic USA and working with a company for the duration of my PhD helped my career immeasurably.

  • Comment number 183.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    @ 78.Vampire
    "Life as a science PhD is pretty bleak."

    Life as a science PhD isn't that bleak, as long as you are in an interesting field of research.

    Fashions do change though, and what is fundable today may not be so tomorrow...

  • Comment number 181.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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