The 1994 Group has released a report: The Postgraduate Crisis, which argues that more needs to be done to address the growing crisis in UK postgraduate education.
The Postgraduate Crisis identifies the familiar problems of no public funding system at postgraduate level in England, the potential impact of increased undergraduate fees on progression to postgraduate study and the role of postgraduate study in sustaining the UK's knowledge and research base, and its economic growth. Postgraduate growth is currently sustained by international student recruitment, and if UK-domiciled postgraduate numbers were to fall this could have a devastating effect.
These arguments have long been accepted within the student movement; we can only hope that the 1994 Group report signifies a wider appetite to tackle the postgraduate crisis than has previously been the case.
Key recommendations of The Postgraduate Crisis
A review of public funding exploring how postgraduate education can be placed on a more sustainable footing, particularly for subjects that are SIV (strategic, important and/or vulnerable). The report does not go so far as to make a case for public investment in postgraduate funding, which is disappointing for students.
Private funding The report recommends reform of professional career development loans (PCDLs) and increases to industry sponsorship of postgraduate provision and individual postgraduates.
Information, advice and guidance are tackled by recommending the creation of a sector-wide IAG resource for postgrads, and a national survey for both taught and research postgraduates.
Information should be gathered about the background of postgraduate students that would enable a better understanding of widening participation at postgraduate level.
Government should support promotion of UK postgraduate study internationally, and facilitate the arrival of international students in the UK.
What NUS thinks about the report
Anyone from a union wanting to get a step-by-step breakdown of why postgraduate study is in crisis should read this report. It gives a very clear, bulleted precis of exactly where the problems are.
Where, in our view, the report falls down is when it comes to recommendations, which do not go far enough, and in some cases merely cover familiar territory. For example, HEFCE has already been instructed to explore improvements to IAG provision for postgraduates, and to seek appropriate indicators to track where postgraduates have WP backgrounds.
On postgraduate funding, the report devotes much space to articulating the public benefit of postgraduate eduction but fails to follow through to make the argument for associated public investment. With lending from banks to cover postgraduate fees already very low, and with the existing sources of credit drying up, it is politically convenient but pragmatically naive to hope that private credit can be expanded to meet the needs of more than a fraction of the postgraduate population.
As for the question of industry sponsorship, what is needed is a more detailed account of why and how industry engages with postgraduate study, and the incentives and barriers to private investment. Industry/employer/business sponsorship is too often invoked as an 'ought' without attempts to tackle the 'how'. We might look to the forthcoming Wilson Review for more insight on this front.