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 78.

    I come from a poor background, and worked for two years full-time before going to uni, then part-time in term and full-time in holidays to fund a BA and MA.

    A lot of students want a lifestyle of partying- that costs money. I went to uni to study so worked hard. That meant less socialising. You have to learn you can't always have everything at once- a valuable lesson in itself for young people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    There are many mediocre people be unemployable.
    whose parents are professionals with two children and high ambitions for them, who are willing to fund them well into their 20s.
    However, as children have broadly the intelligence levels of their parents, and 'poor' parents compound this by having too many children, most talk of huge numbers of 'poor' but of graduate ability is fantasy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Higher education in the UK is cheaper than ever. I could never have afforded it 30 years ago, as tuition fees had to be paid upfront. Now students get interest free loans (which let's face it, are really just generous gifts). Students these days don't know how lucky they are. Bravo for the coalition for organising the Brown report.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    In my 20s and 30s I got my BA and MA degrees in finance related subjects. I have been working as a handyman for more than ten year because education has been a disadvantage for me and no one would hire me with such high qualifications.
    I think the Brits are quite a dumbed down society intellectually and I make more £ in construction anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    The article and most of the comments miss the point. Most hiring managers value potential over education. Many graduates swap industries during the early part of their career. Post Graduate courses should be something considered during a committed career, not before its started. And in that case, many forward thinking Employers will assist in the funding of that course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Many people that I went to university with stayed on to do post grad courses because they didn't know what to do with themselves. As someone said-if you really believe in your course, you will find a way to pay, tax payers shouldn't fund people to do it as a hobby. If people were more focussed when picking higher ed and truly believed in what they were doing, the tax payer might be more supportive

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Too poor to go to study at postgraduate level? Well that's just tough! Stop whinging, stop moaning, and go out an get a job and stop expecting me, the taxpayer, to fund your bone idle lifestyle. I'm fed up with lazy students expecting me to help out with the bills. If we need postgraduates in industry, then we should simply import them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    @63.Bruxical - Indeed, so it's a shame that universtities offer courses to people with grades that would not really merit a move into "higher education". If 50% of people go to University, how can they all get above average earnings and job prespects as a result? In that respect, degrees are not elitist - but they should be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    My MA cost £3500, which I funded myself from working part-time whilst studying. Working whilst studying is not ideal but really what other options are there without getting into even more debt? My MA actually helped me secure a great, well-paid job and so I am very glad I perused it but the initial financial barriers to a PG course will put a lot of people off despite the long term gain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    1.I don't think the wealthy are protecting themselves-most of the highest paid jobs need an undergrad degree only. 2.The myth that fees are unfair needs to be addressed YOU REPAY THE LOAN ONLY IF YOU EARN ENOUGH ON GRADUATING-a poor student who joins Goldmans pays alot, a priviledged student who remains unemployed doesn't pay it back. It's assessed on your earnings not your parents'! 100% fair!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    I'm a graduate, currently working as an unqualified assistant teacher at A-level in my degree subject.
    I've identified the career i want to persue - teaching, but at an unqualified teachers salary, it will be years before i can afford to do my Post Graduate Certificate in Education, and there is no government funding available to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    The vast majority of PhD's are an utter waste of time and money. I have met HUNDREDS in the last 35 years and would only have employed 2 of them.
    Far to much airy fairy NONSENSE and little or any REAL PRACTIAL USE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    I think that Post Graduate degress should be undertaken in conjunction with employers. That way, Companies can invest in people and receive tax credit for it, the divide of wealth is reduced and the degrees can be focussed on truly added value areas, particularly in science and engineering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    I'm funding my MSc with savings and a scholarship.

    However some postgrad courses are ridiculously expensive - for example if you want to do a law conversion, you need rich parents. There's honestly no other way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Too many Universities, too many people going to University with poor A-levels, too many sub-standard individuals leaving University.

    Rubbish in; rubbish out.

    If the demand for University places is high (driven by the idea that anyone can go to University), then price will be where supply meets demand. Accordingly, high tuition fees is the result.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Education should be based upon merit not wealth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    When I went to university many years ago, I had the feeling that the government was investing in me - that by being better educated I would get a better job and end up earning more for the country (both by earning and paying more in taxes and by being more productive for my employer who would also be paying higher taxes). It was no different from investing in infrastructure like roads. Now? Pah!

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    There is a very serious problem in Universities and that is their almost total reliance on temporary academic contracts. The higher degree grants/loans/fees problem reflects this malaise. VC gets over £100K- the workers get next to nothing & wait for a dead-man's-shoes post. 40 years ago when I did my PhD the fees were not noticeable - as a undergrad I knew of people that actually saved money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    56 Rob
    Hi,just endeavouring to point out that the ability to attend Uni, for many, has been decided long before you take on a loan!

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    @55 - If your study is that important or beneficial to you, you will find a way. As people always have.

    Separate note - at the time of writing this comment, #41 had negative feedback. What is wrong with his country when people mark down someone for having ambition and determination? I say more power to you, Theo!


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