Rising Price of British Graduate Education

Many fear that programs will be "priced out of the market."
July 21, 2011

British universities are raising their fees for British and European Union graduate students sharply, a survey suggests, prompting warnings about access to academe and other professions.

The National Survey of UK Tuition Fees, for the coming 2011-12 academic year, indicates that rises in fees for home and EU graduate students (who are called postgraduate students in the U.K.) outstrip increases for non-EU graduate and undergraduate students.

Based on data gathered from 147 UK higher education institutions, the fees survey shows that taught home/EU graduate fees range from £3,400 ($5,500) to £31,738 ($51,000). Using the survey’s data, Times Higher Education calculated the average British/EU graduate fee at those institutions as £6,184 (or about $10,000), taking a median fee where an institution has a range of charges. That is an increase of 24 percent from the average at those same institutions in 2010-11.

Malcolm McVicar, vice chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire, said: "Postgraduates can’t access fees loans or maintenance loans and there is the real danger that if fees go up significantly, British postgraduates will be priced out of the market." The government’s graduate education review, reconvened earlier this year and led by Adrian Smith, is under pressure to provide solutions to the student-support problems.

The survey suggests that average fees for non-EU graduate students in classroom-based subjects increased by 10 percent and in lab-based subjects increased by 8 percent.

The highest fee for home/EUgraduate students is at the University of Oxford, where fees range from £5,970 ($9,600) to £31,738 (more than $51,000, including college fees), up from between £5,502 and £29,186 the previous year. The most expensive graduate degree at Oxford is the M.S. in financial economics, where tuition alone costs £29,500 ($47,600). An Oxford spokeswoman attributed the rise to the discontinuation of Research Councils UK funding for graduate skills training, while some programs had also "seen a substantial fall in funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (particularly taught postgraduate courses)."

HEFCE, which the government says has provided graduate teaching funding of about £100 million ($161 million) for 2011-12, has outlined plans to provide a reduced graduate teaching grant in clinical and lab-based subjects only from 2012-13.

At the University of Sheffield, the lowest home graduate fee increased from £3,460 ($5,600) to £4,200 ($6,800) for 2011-12 – a 21 percent increase. The university took the decision "based on our analysis of fees for comparable courses at other research-intensive institutions in the UK," a Sheffield spokeswoman said.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said it was "inevitable that fees would go up to avoid an anomaly with regard to the new undergraduate regime." He noted that the academic profession relies on students progressing to doctorates. "The health of the sector – but also of the economy and society more generally – depends on the health of postgraduate education."

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: "A rise in fees for postgraduate courses, following that for undergraduates, has been predicted, but the government has blithely ignored this when pushing for higher undergraduate fees. The inevitable decline in access to postgraduate education will have a knock-on impact on access to professions, many of which require postgraduate qualifications, and will also limit those moving on to the research side of universities."

McVicar said that the University of Central Lancashire's current basic graduate fee was £4,000 ($6,400) and that one budget projection would increase this figure to £6,000 ($9.700) in 2012-13, although this had yet to be decided.

He said the Smith review "has to address the question of how to support students…. I think the labor market increasingly will demand people with postgraduate qualifications. Certainly in academic life there is a question about how we get the next generation."

Paul Curran, vice chancellor of City University London, a major provider of graduate education, said fee rises may be more likely "at the cheaper end of the market," and that part-time students and financial support from employers may become more prevalent. He also saw the potential for "strong international promotion of master’s programs … if there is a downturn in the UK/EU market, simply because [such] courses are so important for UK higher education."

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