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 18.

    The prohibitive tuition and living costs of postgraduate education is not just a barrier to less well-off students, it will ultimately damage the UK's skills base and economy. But yes, the government of the wealthy has no understanding of the fear of debt and opposition from family that able, ambitious but less well-off young people face when considering university.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    What we truly need is some honesty about university education.

    The facts are is we send too many, 30 years ago it was the best 15%, now it's the mediocre 45% with almost non-existent entry criteria.

    Most degree courses being taken today will never pay for themselves, as they provide no benefit to industry at all. Some (eg: “media studies”) almost guarantee not even getting to an interview

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Definitely an issue. I paid for my own modestly priced MSc course in 1993 through an ordinary bank loan and worked part time for some of the course, until pressure of study made that impossible. It still took me 6 years to pay off the loan. If I had had debt from my first degree, I would not have been able to do an MSc at all. I worry that my kids will have far fewer opportunities than I did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The real problem is that too many people go to University, and jobs that could in the past be got with a few 'O' levels now often get graduates doing them. I'm not convinced that having over 1/3 of the population doing degrees and having high levels of debt, being late into the workforce, is best for either young people themselves or society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Clegg & Cameron are not in the least bit concerned about social mobility.

  • Comment number 13.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The "obstacles to social mobility" are growing constantly. A cynical person might think that this is due to the decision makers not particularly wanting social mobility.

    As a very simplistic example, the cost of becoming a Government minister (both actual and years of low-paid internships), means Labour - the 'party of the people' - is almost completely devoid of working class representation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    re: tuition fees

    Labour lied about their introduction and subsequent raising of top-ups
    Tories lied about their abolition (2005) and then cancelling assistance payments
    Lib dems lied about voting against raising of fees

    THEY'RE all in it together

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Postgrad fees are uncapped and often monstrously expensive (MSc in economics at LSE is 22k). You have to support yourself for a year and are expected to pay for everything upfront - no loans. This is a barrier to entry regardless of undergrad fees.

    Not the answer but two cheap things that could help a bit:

    - More part-time/distance options
    - Universities to reveal cost price of course

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Britain still provides the one of the best and cheapest educations in the first world. Those that really want to go to university still can, but instead of drinking lots of beer on the weekends a part time job may be in order, and a work ethic developed. This may also encourage those going, to choose a discipline more carefully. Rather than a fun time at uni on the tax payer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    This problem affects less well off students who want to have a post-graduate qualification at masters level, but also those with academic aspirations, as many universities now require a masters degree for PhD study (this is relatively recent). Poorer students are prevented from achieving their potential, whether in commercial or academic domains. It turns off the tap for talent in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    When the number of students going to university increased so did the expectation from companies that you have one to be considered for a position.
    The trouble is most subjects have a purely academic approach, even in IT most degrees do not prepare you for the workplace and external certifications often prove more practical (e.g. those from Microsoft or Cisco). The system is not fit for purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Symptom of the continual denegration of intellectual merit commonplace amongst politicians... who hate that which they do not themselves have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Labour should hang their heads in shame for making manifesto promises to legislate against tuition fees and then bringing them in - two broken promises. It was pretty obvious that, having broken their promises, the Tories would then be able to increase fees to prevent social mobility. The useless Labour Party out-manoeuvred by the Tories as usual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Surely those that benefited from free university education should be taxed in some way as a thank you to the rest of us for subsidizing them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It appears to me that the introduction of tuition fees is to blame for nearly all the higher level education problems of today.

    As a poor student from a council estate background, my education opportunities were far better 30 years ago than they are today.

    I can still remember TB's mantra on education, but in reality it is just another Labour social engineering experiment gone badly wrong

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    omg, something useful is costing some money, shock news. not

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    "The cost of postgraduate university courses could become an extra obstacle to social mobility"

    - I think that was the idea.


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