Postgraduate Education: An Independent Inquiry by the Higher Education Commission

First published on Thu, November 15, 2012.

This report, the first since the Browne Review and the subsequent rise in undergraduate tuition fees, has taken oral and written evidence from all the groups who are associated with and have an interest in postgraduate education.

The report argues that a ‘holistic vision for our education system’ needs to be developed if Britain wishes to continue to develop high level skills and intellectual and technological talent. It also anticipates that postgraduate education will become “the new frontier of widening participation”. Recommendations

• International postgraduate enrolments have increased by more than 200% since 1999, compared to an increase of just 18% for home and EU students. Britain’s reliance on international students to fill gaps in the skills and expertise of the workforce is unsustainable, given that the UKs immigration regulations encourage international students to return to their home country after they have completed their course. Both the number of home and EU students, and the retention of international students need to be increased.

• There is currently very little data available on postgraduate students, posing problems for informed policy-making. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) should be responsible for gathering and analysing data on finance, fees and costs, socio-economic background of students, course quality and employment outcomes.

• The government should establish a taskforce to examine the feasibility of a state-backed postgraduate student loan scheme and develop policy options, reporting by December 2013. These loans may be targeted towards areas which are strategically important to the UK’s future competitiveness, and where there is currently a mismatch between projected demand and future supply of postgraduates.

• There is a misalignment between the postgraduate courses taken by students and the courses demanded by industry and the academy. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), HEFCE, and Research Councils UK (RCUK) should work with other sector bodies to improve our national understanding of employer need for postgraduate skills.

• The Confederation of British Industry should evaluate how they monitor employer views on postgraduate skills. The CBI Education and Skills survey should be modified to look explicitly at postgraduate level skills.

• Postgraduate participation should be explicitly addressed in institutions’ widening participation strategies.

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