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.


More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    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.
    I've paid for that "free education" easily 100x over through income tax. That was the point of it, so the economy could benefit from our talents. No thanks is required on our side.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    As a tax-payer, I object to funding postgrad courses where it is highly likely that the skills provided will not be directly used as part of a long term career. Since most PHDs are highly specialised, most people end up doing something unrelated to their qualification; many even switch discipline and work in IT, project management, sales or marketting. Postgrads should be self-funded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    If you're young and have a good degree don't worry about a phd. Work experience counts for far more than institutionalised doctorates. My main advise is to get out of this country quick as possible because hard work and loyalty stand for nothing in UK. I have an MSc and its not worth the paper its printed on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    @126.Sixtus Beckmesser
    What subject did you study? I refuse to believe that you were really as good as you said as if you were you would have been looking at phds not a msc? You could have applied for funding for a phd? I got a First in my undergrad and was offered 2 different funded phds so I can only assume that you did a more obscure subject or you weren't as good as you think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I don't come from a wealthy background, in order to do my Masters and PhD I went out and found the funding, there is no social barrier if you put in the hard yards. If you can't even get over this first hurdle a PhD is probably not for you, it's 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    "Cerri Love
    I'm very confused. I'm doing a PhD right now, having started 2 years ago. It hasn't cost me a penny, except for living costs. I actually get paid to do it."

    If you're confused at the difference in nature and funding arrangements between PG Taught (eg MSc) and PG Research (eg PhD) degrees then you really should be concerned about your future employment prospects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    "...Consequently, I have had to settle for run-of-the-mill jobs which are, frankly, insulting to my intelligence."

    Sounds like you have a serious attitude problem. Furthermore, your comment betrays the fact that you are a lot less intelligent than you believe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.


    'I graduated with a first.'

    I love that. General statement, with no context.

    What's the first in? Where's it from? What A-level grades did you get? In which subjects?

    The answers to those questions are the ones that determine the value of your education. Chances are if any unemployed graduate asks themselves those questions they'll find out why they're unemployed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Sixtus Beckmesser

    "I have had to settle for run-of-the-mill jobs which are, frankly, insulting to my intelligence."

    Go into politics, change it...

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    With a finite education budget, the fewer people going to University, the easier it is to fund them through it. Reduced social mobility is an unintended consequence of Labours populist agenda of sending 50% of the population to University. They didn't or couldn't think it through. You actually increase the chances of the less privileged by reducing places, but fully funding them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I'm very confused. I'm doing a PhD right now, having started 2 years ago. It hasn't cost me a penny, except for living costs. I actually get paid to do it.

    Where are people paying to do these things?

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    to #126
    Maybe it is your attitude holding you back? Just a thought.

  • 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 125.

    I have a part-time university post, thanks to a doctorate. Thanks to my permanent severe disability, the post is less remunerative than are other academic posts. But without the doctorate, I might not have any employment, linked to my education anyway. If post-graduate work is required for any job, then it has to be affordable, perhaps funded by employers.

  • 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 123.

    Actually the next social barrier is the "internship" or "work experience". Doctors, lawyers, journalists and other "professions" all make sure their kids can get "relevant work experience" and do so bypassing the HR department and equality laws. That gives them an inbuilt advantage over kids from any other backgrounds with often better degrees that don't have this network.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    I completely and utterly agree with this. I graduated from my Bachelors with a degree in Earth Science, in order to pursue a vocation in my field, I needed a Masters in the field that I am now in.

    Even with 'sponsorship' from the parents in the form of free lodgings, I still needed to work for a year to pay for my fees and living expenses.

    Without the bank of M+D, I'd still be nowhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    @116 - undergrad degrees aren't useless, problem is half the people with them are useless.There's no point having a postgrad degree if you haven't got any hobbies/extra curricular interests (that get an interview) or don't have interpersonal skills (that get the job).The job market is tough but people blindly doing a Masters aren't addressing the issue that didn't get them a job after their BA/BSc

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Qualifications are only worth more if (a) There are technical jobs out there that require/value the extra knowledge, (b) There is a limited supply. I suspect a lot of prime science jobs will have been farmed out to China and India before the next cohort of post docs qualify leaving them wondering where the promise of these well paid jobs has gone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    I dropped out of Uni in my first year and immediately got myself a job. I'm now earning a nice amount of money and my friends coming out of uni with a degree are starting to realise that in the real world, only academic snobs can about uni qualifications and I wouldn't want to work for those people anyway,


Page 4 of 10


More Education & Family stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.