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 98.

    I am about to finish my undergraduate and continuing with a masters degree is simply not possible as I cannot find a bank who will loan me enough money to cover the fees and living costs. This is a timely and accurate report, although nothing will happen in time for me, I will have to work for a number of years to self fund the course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    "report raises concerns that if employers increasingly want to recruit people with postgraduate degrees, ..."
    Have we just got lazy recruiters? Too many applicants now have ordinary degrees, so they introduce an artificial extra requirement. Such escalation is the path to madness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    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."

    Labour has not been the party of the people for many years now, and would not really know what "working class" means any longer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Unfortunately far too many Science/medical PhDs are funded and should not be. Scientists tend to think they are the elite and I certainly would not want to fund much of the "Scientific" work being done as a lot of it is useless and damaging. Finding new pharmaceutical drugs because it is "doing good to help people" is rubbish. Most pharmaceuticals are damaging and killing us off!.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    @90.paul - Your comment hints at the failings of the state education system up to the age of 18. How can we ensure the brightest rise to the top there ragardless of background? Well, there's streaming, or grammar schools, or ensuring that teachers can teach rather than just have to control unruly children who don't want to learn... The list goes on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    There is no funding for masters cource and in many subjects it there is no funding for a PHD without a masters first. I and currently on a MSc by Research in Computer Science in Exeter it was impossible for me to be on this course if it were not for the support from my family. Since I wish to go down the academic rout I was unable to take out a bank-loan for this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    I am a second year Chemistry PhD student, with a technicianship funded by my university. What people forget when comparing stipends and salaries is that you don't pay tax on your stipend which does make the starting salaries and stipends comparable. For my career choice a PhD is compulsory. If the research is worth doing someone will fund it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    It is a disgrace that a PGCE teacher training has risen to £9,000 a year. You are required to have a postgraduate teaching qualification (PGCE) in order to teach in most schools in the UK. It is a compulsory requirement. So this should be funded - graduates with already loans of over £25,000 cannot afford to take PGCE courses, so there will be no teachers! What a disaster Mr Gove.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    This country can only reach its potential if we choose the best out of all students. We cannot continue to promote and advance a priviledged group only. Sadly our education system operates on - best education for those who can afford it. This government is not only perpetuating it but introducing ideological and funding changes that exacerbate it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    What the BBC and the government forget to inform us about is that you pay back student loans only if you're wage is over £21,000 at 9% p/m. Don't think of it as a loan, it's regained by income tax where theoretically a degree should allow access to higher paying jobs. Oh, and its wiped after 30 years if not fully payed for some reason helping neither the economy nor the brightest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Rather timely. I'm a 1st year PhD student and was told yesterday that inspite of meeting the eligibility criteria, having 5 papers accepted at 5 international conferences, and my work being of a high quality, that I would not even be considered for ESRC funding. Why? Because of my life history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    So's yours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Why is everyone avoiding the elephant in the room. It is not about education it is about money. Uni's fall over themselves not to educate British students. they really do not want them. They want overseas that pay higher fees. The day will come when UK unis will be like Harvard that had its own fund for managing money through markets! It is all about the cash!

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Obviously you've never met a PhD student if you think we're bone idle. We work hard, and particularly in the sciences most of our projects have practical applications. I'm studying for a PhD in medicinal chemistry on a university scholarship; without that funding I wouldn't be able to work on developing drugs that may one day save lives! Your ignorance and contempt is appalling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Is this an English or subject specific thing? I went to uni in Scotland and after getting a First in my undergraduate degree I was offered funding to do a phd. I choose to go out and get a job instead but I would have been paid to do a phd. Many of my friends are currently doing phds that they are paid for by a variety of funding and research bodies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.


    Most degree courses being taken today will never pay for themselves, as they provide no benefit to industry at all.

    What "industry"??
    The future of this country lies in keeping a high educational standard to keep us ahead in science,technology, arts, creativity, business and innovation.
    It is vital that we encourage as many as possible to develop their knowldge and skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    'The issue I have with imposing fees on students is that parents need 18 years to save'

    Parents don't pay. Students pay back loans when they start earning. This is an improvement on the grant situation where parents were assessed, and required to make a contribution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Ned - This discussion is about post graduate study, which I understand has to be paid for up front and no student loans are whether you are bright enough to go on to post grad, or if it is a requirement for your chosen career, is not the issue. All that matters is if you can afford it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    #76 Jethro

    Please tell my children where they can get one of these interest free loans. Is it on this planet or another one?

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

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

    Does this mean that he accepts that the Coalition's change, so no one pays fees up front, have removed the financial barrier to Graduate courses?


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