A major overhaul of funding for postgraduate taught students is being proposed today by the National Union of Students.
The proposed funding model would see government, business, professional and voluntary bodies work in partnership with institutions to provide students with income-contingent loans of at least £6000 to put towards the cost of study.
The 20-page document, Steps toward a fairer system of postgraduate funding in England, outlining the proposals provides a model which has been costed using the government’s own ‘ready reckoner’ used to calculate the losses to the Treasury on undergraduate student loans. The model is made up of three ‘streams’ of finance:
Access to the professions, designed for government to work with professional bodies to provide loans to those with the greatest need to encourage diversity to the professions.
Part-time professional development, with student loans part-funded by employers for those wishing to study any kind of postgraduate qualification part-time alongside employment.
General masters study, where a discrete number of government-backed loans will be available for full-time or part-time masters study
In the wake of reports from Alan Milburn and the Higher Education Commission calling for government to provide greater access to postgraduate funding for students, NUS are confident that their model will be taken very seriously.
NUS Vice President for Higher Education, Rachel Wenstone, is calling on the government to consider the clear benefits of a loan scheme, asking them to take into account the vast contribution that the postgraduate sector to the economy and society as a whole:
‘The current system is grossly unfair. Our proposals are a first step towards making postgraduate education accessible, and based on merit rather than on wealth. In the long term, PGT should be properly funded by the government, who need to recognise the public value of the sector. They need to realise that funding postgraduate education will lead to growth, innovation and a fairer society’
Luke James, NUS officer for postgraduate taught students, has referred to the plans as a ‘huge step towards fair access and widening participation in postgraduate education’, and supports the piloting of similar schemes in Wales and Scotland. But Luke also warns that a loan scheme would be useless without assurances from government that direct public funding of postgraduate study will not continue to be cut.
As well as calling for the continuation of public funding via the block grant for PGT courses, the proposals also suggest measures should be taken to prevent further above-inflation rises in fees. As Luke explains:
‘We need a reasonable cap on fees that allows leeway for universities to cover their costs and have financial security, whilst not allowing students to be overcharged and laden with obscene debts’.
You can download a full copy of the document here.
A summary of the NUS proposals can also be found here.