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 158.

    Since Labour decided that everyone should have undergraduate degrees, the level of qualification needed to stand out has risen. Masters degrees today are in a sense equivalent to undergrad degrees 20 yrs ago.

    This would be fine if standards had risen but for example, material I did 12yrs ago in the 3rd year of my degree is now 'too hard' to be included.

    More funding is need for apprentiships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.


    So you got free meals at school, an EMA bursury, and a PhD scholarship.

    And you're complaining about "barriers to equality"??? Wake up! If you were needy, then it was clearly provided for you. Where's the problem? Or is it just that you are greedy and want what you do not earn?

    It's OK it's not your fault completely - the symptoms of Labour rear their ugly head...

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    Education increases your earning power and therefore should not be free. Anyone doing it for the love of pursuing knowledge can pay for it as it is essentially a hobby or just go online to research. With degrees being expensive (but affordable through loans repaid on getting a decent salary) people will make proper decisions about whether uni is right for them and the number of grads will decrease

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Also, why do all the 'Editor's Picks' only support the overall assertion of the article?

    A lot of people on here have put forward well articulated counter arguments, but 4 of the 5 'Editor's Picks' are the same 'I've got a good degree to which I'll provide no specific information on, but still am unemployed/can't get funding for a post-grad' sob stories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    It's been a barrier for years I would have loved to have done a master's phd etc but coming from a ordinary background there was no chance after my degree just didn't have the funds & that was back in the 80's. So no change since then it's a none story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    @149. Adam_Soc

    "everything nowadays costs money"

    I'm afraid that providing education has always cost money, somebody has to pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    At school I got free school meals and an EMA bursary. I am now doing a PhD and am only able to do so because I was awarded an AHRC studentship. I had to achieve a 1st class degree, a challenge while working 20 hours a week in Primark. Even when you get onto a postgrad course, the barriers to equality continue, in my case through the lask of financial support for covering childcare costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    You have a right to a basic state education. If you want to join the elite group of people that go into higher education, then you have to pay for it. Complaining about this is synonymous to complaining that only rich people are allowed Ferrari's. Try communism.

    Use your brains - Degrees have only lost their value because they have become more accessible. You want this to happen to post grad too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    @146.yorkshiremum - "Post 18 education should be free but should be more difficult to get into."

    I agree, but then you'd have the usual bleating about it being elitist and exclusive/exclusionary.

    Or they'll say that the ones who got the grades to attend these courses went to 'better' schools and got a better education. Can't win - even with a sensible idea!

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    It is ridiculous that in today's society we must pay for education! It should not be a privilege to, it should a a right - a human right for us all to get free education. From primary school to PhD.
    Modernity has become a marketplace - everything nowadays costs money. I am a undergraduate student, hoping to do my Masters degree, but the lack of funding available is making me think twice now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Your average premier league footballer's salary could comfortably fund over 100 PhD students. Your average reality show where a few people are locked up for a few months and made to argue could do the same.

    Yet here are people complaining about those that want to altruistically pursue knowledge.

    What an immature society we live in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    I think people really do need to distinguish between institutions when referring to "degrees" and "graduates". A degree from a top/russell group prestigious university still opens all the same doors as ever. A degree from the "university" of the back of beyond, accepting average students with mediocre grades, is completely pointless. If it's not difficult to get in to, its not worth going to!

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    If you price people out of further education then you're going to end up with rich numpkins running the country. Oh, we already have that!

    Post 18 education should be free but should be more difficult to get into. Couple that with more apprenticeships and vocational colleges then the balance is redressed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Just a quick note from me.

    I never went to university at all... I did a BTEC National course at college in 2007.

    Been unemployed ever since! Meh, I was always more interested in gaming than working anyway. :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    It's very rare that an individual will have to fund a PhD themselves. Most come with a stipend attached (~£13.5K p/a tax free plus no council tax). If the topic isn't funded, it's usually because your supervisor hasn't applied for funding from a research body (you can do this together before or after you've applied to study). In other cases, it's because the research is flawed in some way.

  • 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 142.

    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
    The irony in telling people to leave the country but not to bother with a PhD!
    PhDs are in demand all over, in the US PhDs are amongst the highest earners, and it's far easier to get in with one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    @121.Ned - "undergrad degrees aren't useless, problem is half the people with them are useless."


    Ned, you have a point. However, certain under- & postgrad degrees are more useful than others. I read somewhere there's a Masters in 'The Beatles'!
    Once, being a Master meant you were an expert & could teach; or could produce excellent quality (viz. master craftsman / mstr mason)

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Although I was fortunate enough to get help with my MSc, the problems really started with all the colleges becoming Universities. The government touted this as opening up education to all by means of loads of courses. The reality was too many substandard degrees and a funding shortfall, removing grants and introducing loans. That alone has made further education expensive, reducing choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    It's a joke - postgraduate (especially a masters) doesn't even indicate that the person was the cream of the crop when graduating from their undergraduate course. Most people I know who have done MAs are wealthy kids who used it as a means to defer starting work, people who got 2.2s or chose dubious subjects at less prestigious universities for undergrad, and want to hide that with a shiny MA.


Page 3 of 10


More Education & Family stories



BBC © 2014 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.