Postgraduate courses 'social mobility barrier'

Graduates Postgraduate numbers have trebled since the 1990s

The cost of postgraduate university courses could become an extra obstacle to social mobility, warns a study from the Sutton Trust charity.

It says if students need postgraduate degrees for a tough jobs market, poor students should not be priced out.

There are fears that increased undergraduate tuition fees could deter people from staying on at university.

Postgraduate courses could become the "preserve of the better off student", says trust chairman, Sir Peter Lampl.

The study, carried out by researchers at the London School of Economics and Surrey University, looked at the rise in postgraduate numbers - and how it might affect fair access to jobs.

Rising costs

The proportion of people of working age in Britain with a postgraduate qualification has climbed rapidly - up to 11% from 4% in 1996.

The study found that a postgraduate degree remained linked to higher earnings, worth on average more than an extra £5,000 per year compared with someone who only had an undergraduate degree.

But the report raises concerns that if employers increasingly want to recruit people with postgraduate degrees, that such courses should not be limited to wealthier students.

Start Quote

Postgraduate study is becoming increasingly the preserve of the better off student, both from home and abroad”

End Quote Sir Peter Lampl Sutton Trust

In particular, there is a worry that if students have had to pay up to £9,000 per year for three years they are less likely to want to take on the financial burden of even more years of university.

"Graduates facing debts in excess of £40,000 through undergraduate student loans are likely to see the prospect of funding a further £20,000 a year in fees and living costs, without having access to student loans, truly daunting," says Sir Peter.

"When I was growing up, there were many professions that were open to young people with good A-levels.

"More recently, an undergraduate degree has become essential for many of those careers. Now we find that a postgraduate degree is increasingly expected," says Sir Peter, describing this inflation of academic expectations.

"Of course, a better educated workforce should be good for Britain. But it is essential that this should not come at the expense of widening inequalities of access to these professions.

"Postgraduate study is becoming increasingly the preserve of the better off student, both from home and abroad."

The Sutton Trust says there should be a better system for providing financial assistance to students wanting to stay on for postgraduate courses.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    I got a bursary to do my Master's degree - research-based, so a foundation funded it. This was overseas.

    My second Master's degree I funded myself with a loan her in UK, and had to study while working full time, to pay my mortgage and support my family.

    School is free. Why should post-school education (especially post-grad education) be free? It's your choice to do it. Loans are available.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Having higher degrees can make you less employable: if you realise you're not career-aspirational and just want any old job, or have a higher degree in a field with no jobs (usually something Arts), you'll be considered overqualified, or 'you can get a better job with that, so we won't employ you'. I was told I'd need to fund my own Masters and it would be like owning a flash car: useless but fun!

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    I graduated with a sound degree. I was even told that my final dissertation had the makings of some very good postgraduate work. Sadly, I could not afford to talk up the offer to do a Masters' degree and I could not ask my parents to re-mortgage the family home to pay my way. Consequently, I have had to settle for run-of-the-mill jobs which are, frankly, insulting to my intelligence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Many PhDs are only open to self funded applicants. Ordinary people can't afford to fund PhDs and funding is impossibly scarce meaning that the rich are the ones who get the places. There seems to be practically no funding available for MSc courses. So much for equality

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    I definitely feel priced out. I graduated with a first, but because of my background I can barely afford the interview let alone the course fees and living costs.

    I was brought up by a Labour government who instilled in me that all I needed to move up in society was hard work and determination. It seems like Blair was lyng, because now without a band of 20s in your pocket, you're going nowhere.


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