Outreach initiatives that help working-class students access higher education often end at undergraduate level. In a marketplace where postgraduate qualifications are becoming more important, it's time to change thatby Freya Marshall Payne / February 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
Cast an eye across the headlines of any newspaper education section and you’ll see, in the recurring debates over grammar schools and Oxbridge admissions, that inequality is at the heart of the British education system. Thankfully, at last, British universities have begun to take action: An ever-growing number of institutions provide bursaries for low-income undergraduates, and elite institutions like Oxford and Cambridge have started schemes to attract working-class undergraduates.
But in at least one important respect, the Higher Education sector’s public commitment to equality shows itself to be insincere: despite recruiting more low-income undergraduates, there is an almost complete lack of funding to help these same working-class students progress to postgraduate degrees. And, most troublingly of all, neither the media nor policy-makers are engaging with this particular educational class issue.
“Taught postgraduate degrees” might sound like a small issue. In fact, they affect an ever-growing number of Britons and represent a new “class ceiling” as more and more people go to university in the first place. Masters are increasingly not just a mandatory stepping stone for PhDs. No: today a postgrad qualification is required by many industries, and in others needed to access higher positions. They are also not just an issue for the young as re-training becomes a crucial issue for those of us who—working in the digital age—will need to develop multiple careers throughout our lives. There can be no true equality in the workforce or in academia if the disadvantages of a low-income background are dismissed as soon as someone graduates from a bachelor’s.
Government policy of lending taught postgraduates a maximum of £10k is simply not enough. In most cases, this sum will not cover living costs on top of the average tuition cost of £7k. For elite institutions’ Master’s degrees, it won’t even cover tuition, which sits around £12k.
Thanks to this, those able to afford Master’s degrees either need to already have well-paying jobs to sustain them, a family who can foot the bill, or the willingness to study part-time, which means juggling commitments and delaying certain opportunities. This economic landscape not only robs prospective low-income applicants of their aspirations, but robs the country of diversity in research and leadership.
As Britain’s richest academic institutions, with access to a pool of £21bn between them, one might hope that Oxford…