Wednesday 09-12-2015 - 12:33
This is a guest blog by Mahamid Ahmed, Postgraduate Taught Officer
I spoke at both the Westminster Higher Education Forum Project and Westminster Briefing over the past few weeks to policy-makers, government, universities and specialists about the upcoming Postgrad Taught (PGT) Loans for 2016-17 and how that ties into wider cost issues that PGT students face. I argued that £10,000 for prospective PGT students is simply not enough. As an example NUS Research found that living costs were £12,000 a year outside London and £13,500 inside London. Further PGT students are particularly cash-strapped compared to their counterparts in Undergraduate or Postgrad Research: 87% of respondents who said they had “no funding” for their postgraduate course in the NUS Pound In Your Pocket survey were PGT Masters students, while the other 13% were PhD students. This means that the lack of funding for PGT Education has put many people off pursuing a PGT qualification but at the same time added significant financial hardship for those who are already pursuing a Master’s degree.
I also emphasised how age caps should be removed on PGT loans - thankfully it has been announced since that the age cap is off in the spending review on 25 November! The #CapsOff campaign led by Sorana Vieru, our VP Higher Education, meant that we not only collected testimonies from mature PGT and undergraduate students but also institutions and vice-chancellors lobbying their MPs for the age cap to be removed. We used many arguments at forums such as the Westminster Higher Education Forum Project, including the economic argument that our stagnant economy could greatly benefit from reskilling and Upskilling through a Master’s degree, the lack of savings in the 31-44 age bracket and a third of the PG sector being 30+.
Additionally, I called on institutions to look at Fee Regulation, as fees for PGT courses are increasing year-by-year, up 4.2% from last year, even with inflation at zero. The fear is, while the new PGT loans are a step in the right direction, universities will want to increase their PGT course fees as the new loan system comes in, negating the intended impact of the loans. This is something NUS and the NUS Postgraduate Committee will be working on by lobbying against fee inflation.
All of these factors connect to the wider points of inclusivity, as an example only 26.7% of UK-domiciled PGT students are from Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) backgrounds. Alleviating the financial barriers to PGT study will go some way in increasing BME participation, however discrimination and admissions bias still stand as significant issues. Finally I would like to congratulate all those who contributed towards the #CapsOff campaign, this is a significant step towards inclusivity and representation in Postgraduate education, however we will continue fighting for more inclusivity and ultimately accessibility to PG courses in the long-term.