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 240.

    I'm in Liverpool university right this second, on a postgrad music course, with plans to teach. I have been doing it part time in order to work and have seen this years and last years classes, both are over three qurters Chinese with a couple of Europeans. The jobs may be there but British people wont be in a position to get them if they are in a drastic minority. LIPA is the same also.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Problems in the UK stem from attitude. Kids are taught being clever is shameful, and lied to about the realities of getting a job. I've been trying to get a job since I was 16. 10 years later I'm waiting for my Chemistry PhD viva. I know it won't help me get a job but what else should I do?! I won't go on the dole! However, I will leave the country. No other choice, really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    I think people are looking at this incorrectly. First, why do people from the UK go to university? I guess the majority will say to get a better-paid job. Second, how many firms demand a post-grad taught or research qualification? I guess few, especially if graduating in a social science subject. Look at uni career fairs and see how many firms even offer a different route for post-graduates!

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    BIS is the most ineffective ministry,and fails totally to deliver on its brief. Under BIS education in Universities and FE is being delivered without leadership. The fact that Universities are entrepeneurial enough to sell good for them. We have more than enough graduates and post graduates for our economy. What we need is BIS to support business, which is what this story is about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    ....Many British post docs I know have been forced to go abroad to find a job in their field"

    100% correct, I'm a well-published postdoc, years of experience, about to be redundant, no chance of becoming a PI now. BTW there is no limit to how many UK PhD students labs in a university will take on if they have funding. Most foreign ones bring their own, so they are NOT part of this equation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    I'm sorry? Isn't competition and profit good for driving up quality? Isn't that what we were told? Does it now appear that there may be exceptions to that universal tuth? Well fancy that...

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    I am one of the top people in one of the top engineering labs in the UK, yet when I applied to some supposedly high-tech firms they offered less money than I got as a PhD student. Other countries pay engineers a decent amount of money, but in the UK (and I have experience of working for one of the big UK engineering companies) it's just about bums on seats. Make use of the skills we do have here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    I'm doing a PhD thats funded but have almost quit several times as I just cannot afford childcare from my grant. Undergrads can have 100% of their childcare paid for, but post grads are not entitled to any help. Since many post grads are at a time in their lives to start families, or already have families, some childcare help might go a long way to retaining talent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    So graduates are going to employers expecting to get work. How many of them have work experience, showing a grade on paper doesn't prove your good enough to be hired, they need to actually see how u faired in the world of work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    230.Rich Owl

    most phd's are examned by an external evaminer. they have the final say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    For producing a dearth of skilled workers, look at HEFCE. A Universities funding is based in part on how many students complete within 4 years. therefore any student who enrols is almost certainly going to pass (it's in the interests of the Uni, and the supervisor, to get them through), even if the supervisor completes the thesis and the student is poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Yet another example of how little respect there is in the UK for academic excellence. This is endemic throughout society. Funding from industry with industry directing course content is also a systemic failure. Would the steam power industry have funded research into electrical energy? Will oil producers willingly fund viable "green technology"? Most "invention" is accidental discovery

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    130.astrakhan - 'my point is that it does not require many degree qualified employees and when I say degree I mean a proper one'

    tell me - what 'proper' evidence are you basing any of this on?

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    An excellent article. I think we have a general problem in this country of looking for a quick buck (privatisation of utilities anyone). If we're training foreign students, they will go back to their country's to work in competition against the UK, it's madness! Allocate the places to UK students instead and let our newly educated workforce create skilled jobs for the future. OUR future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    The UK has one of the most open economies in the world. That means - we will happily accept takeovers from foreign firms (Kraft and Cadbury's) and accept them transferring production to Poland. We are happy to import a million people from Eastern Europe to work for a lower wage than a million people from the UK. Our form of capitalism clearly does not care two hoots about the UK population

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Its the fee's, I just graduated from Newcastle University (Undergrad) but looked at doing a postgrad, it wasn't the cost of 10'000 that put me off, it was the fact one has to take out a bank loan to finance it. Its far less attractive that Student Loan service for undergrad. So if you want more postgrad students from the UK extend Student Finance to Postgrad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    The real problem is the lack of research jobs within the UK for post-docs. Many British post docs I know have been forced to go abroad to find a job in their field, this is ridiculous when according to this article 'the UK is failing to produce enough highly-skilled staff'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Employers no longer recognise degrees as having value. My husband and I graduated in 2007 and although we are grateful to have good careers, they are unrelated to our degree subjects. We have been knocked back by employers who are only interested in specific experience - vicious circle! The recent announcment to get more people to go to university is proof of how out of touch our politicians are!

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    As a 3rd year chemistry PhD student my experiences echo those of fellow posters. EPSRC have cut funding in general and to many key areas not only affecting future postgraduates but also preventing new Dr's from obtaining a job in the UK. A job on staff in a university doing research is now almost unobtainable thanks to huge cuts - no wonder so many UK science postgraduates go to another country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    I am a PhD student at a British uni, and have to say that most post-grads I know are British.
    Universities do not employ post-grad students, the research groups that work within the universities do, and it is their choice whether to employ a overseas student or local one. Most PhD students are paid from research grants, never directly from the university. Cont in next post...


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