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 198.

    If employers demand these qualifications, then employers should fund the courses. It's now the only way they can ensure they get the best people, and not just those who happen to have wealthy parents. By increasing their demands, they've painted themselves into a corner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Make degrees worth the paper they are written on in the first place and there will less of a need for students to get a Masters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    I'm sure its been said already, but what needs to be done is to stop meaningless degrees that people just study to stave off finding a job for 3 years. If only the educated top 15% went to university then it should be free for those who go. Then at the post graduate level things are even worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    @194, I completely agree, the professions I have chosen, (teaching then counselling) have both required me to undertake post-graduate education, however my husband dropped out after a term of uni. and decided to start work from the bottom-up and is now managing many buildings across London, inc. the Olympic Village, ironically his successor will require a degree as part of the job specification

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Too many people go to uni nowadays that don't need to. My advice - unless you really need to because you know the career you want and you'll get into it, don't bother going to uni. Start at the bottom and work your way up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    What is social mobility and who wants it? I have had a reasonably successful career and know some very successful people. They don't crave social mobility or select people for positions at work, or to be friends, on the basis of background. I can't help thinking that some who believe they have under achieved like to blame glass ceilings or old boy networks, but the truth is somewhat different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Gbuk01- the negative 1 rating on your comment is because of my dodgy stylus-it should be plus 1

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Is this surprising from a country which still believes in Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses? No doubt fairies and elves could also play a part. The UK does not have an 'equal society' culture and so once you have worked your socks off to become the best in your field, unless you have made a great discovery, you will be judged on your social background.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    The sooner Employers stop asking for a degree and get candidates to sit their own tests the better.

    A degree is a waste of money for most people, the content of many degrees was surpassed by the old A levels.

    Let schools churn out employees and give universities back to academics

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    @Bitofrealism-Gutted I didn't know about these loans you mention that don't require repayment....I think the clue is in the word 'loan': they are paid back, with interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    To be realistic by looking at the current salary in London, I won't advise anyone to do a postgraduate course unless you are offered a place in the UK top 10 red brick universities. Unless you have savings and passion to learn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    It depends what you're trying to get your masters in, and where. The government is still pumping money into postgrad courses in certain areas (I'm paying half the comparable UG fees this year for my MSc I need.) When choosing your UGcourse, you do need to look at what you'll need to get employed and whether the cost is worth it, for me it's

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    A masters or doctorate may be actually easier if you are holding down a job. There is a much greater emphasis on original research compared to the learning aspect of a bachelors degree. Often this can be achieved by slanting the research towards your own job experience, helping both your company and yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    @177.Nick - "If you look to Europe though you can probably find the same course in English for a lot less!"

    But if you go to Europe, it may well cost you a lot more overall. You have to get there and live there while studying.

    Swings and roundabouts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Can we stop this nonsense that it makes a difference whether or not you are rich or poor when it comes to going to university. All students get the same Student Loans and pay the same amount. You pay it back post degree when you have your own job, so it makes no difference your, or your parent's, financial situation before hand. Oh and I am a student from what would be called a 'poor' background.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    I disagree with the comment that "30 years ago only the elite 15 % went to university and this was better". University only used to be an option for the middle class and widening access has been instrumental in the lives of many. I think the cost of PG study is a real issues, especially as for many professionals (eg teaching PGCE fees up to 9k depending on subject) it is an essential element. I

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    I got a bursary to do my Master's degree - research-based, so a foundation funded it. This was overseas.

    My second Master's degree I funded myself with a loan her in UK, and had to study while working full time, to pay my mortgage and support my family.

    School is free. Why should post-school education (especially post-grad education) be free? It's your choice to do it. Loans are available.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    This is as a result of grade inflation and the dumbing down of UK education at all levels. It now means that a degree is required to do an A level-level job and a post graduate qualificaiton is required to do a graduate-level job. Unfortunately the poor suckers in the younger generation are having to pay to get a job by borrowing against their future income - it is like a stealth tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    174. Dandalf
    "More should be done in schools to push bright kids into STEM subjects"

    Please don't condemn our brightest and most able to a life time of struggling to find work and generally being paid low wages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    My son is in his final year,should make a first. he is an accademic nerd,ie Accademia is his forte and where he can make a genuine contribution. In the real world he is probably unemployable!! it appears unlikely despite his professors endeavours on his behalf, that any funding will be available.he has Aspergers,so sadly the consequence will be the DOLE costing more than PHD funding!!


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