Government loan system needed to boost UK postgraduates
By Vivienne Russell | 23 October 2012
The government should consider setting up a loan system to support British postgraduate students, according to higher education experts.
A report from the independent Higher Education Commission says the sector is failing to produce sufficient numbers of highly trained British workers. Warning of a perfect storm ahead, it says fees for courses are increasing while domestic students’ access to loan finance is increasingly restricted.
The sector is also geared too much towards attracting foreign students, the report, Postgraduate education, says. The number of international postgraduate students has increased by 200% since 1999, compared with just 18% for home and European Union students.
Data on the European ‘Bologna’ education area also show that fewer than 10% of home undergraduates in England and Wales enter postgraduate study within two years, a distinction shared only with Andorra and Kazakhstan.
One vice chancellor, Professor Don Nutbeam of Southampton University, says in the report that unless the funding issues are addressed, postgraduate study will ‘only be for the rich and for international students’.
The report calls on ministers to ‘immediately’ establish a senior-level taskforce, which should include members of the finance community, to develop proposals for a loan system similar to that available for undergraduates.
Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust and a member of the commission, added it was ‘vital’ that the brightest graduates were not priced out of postgraduate study.
He said: ‘We must make the most of all our talents, and that is no less important in postgraduate studies, which are now dominated by overseas students. The commission’s proposal for a targeted state-backed loan scheme should be pursued alongside other measures to support non-privileged postgraduate students.’
Graham Spittle, chief technology officer for IBM and chair of the inquiry, said: ‘There are a number of areas where current policy is out of step with our ambition as a nation to be the leading knowledge-based economy of the world. In these areas, policy change is urgently required. We can’t coast along on our past successes. Failure to act and address these challenges will put at risk our future prosperity.’
The Higher Education Commission at think-tank Policy Connect is an independent body made up of higher education and business leaders, as well as representatives from the three main political parties. It was established in response to demand from Parliament for a ‘more reflective discourse’ on higher education issues.