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 78.

    Life as a science PhD is pretty bleak. Low salaries, poor job security and a complete sense of being unvalued. No wonder the best STEM PhDs get snapped up by the city. If we want innovation in this country, time to start paying scientist and engineers more than bankers and lawyers. The PhD in Physics gets paid peanuts while the media studies BA gets 100k. Something wrong there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    If big business needs more post graduates then perhaps they should pay for it. My company paid for my PHD and it allowed them to steer the research into areas that benefited them directly. Students can barely afford the three years it takes to graduate. Adding another two/three years of costs onto that is un-reasonable. Business wants all of the benefits but none of the costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    As a graduate in joint Physics and Mathematics I would like to know where all these post-graduate jobs are. I am constantly told that I do not have enough experience... how then do I get the experience needed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Having done postgrad education and comparing my experience with others from around the world two things stick out.

    In the UK, if you undergo Post Grad education you are seen as either a geek or 'adult who doesn't want to enter the world of work'

    Speaking to Foreign post grads, its seen as something to aspire to and a gateway to a successful career either in academia or industry,

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I'm a physics PhD student, and the reason scientists do postgrad study is because we love our subject area, and generally want to pursue a career in science (not to simply become skilled workers for the economy). But with science funding so drastically cut, the chances of getting a career in science is minuscule. Intelligent, passionate scientists are forced to go overseas, or just not bother.


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