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The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) are focusing on increasing access to postgraduate education, which has been identified as a potential barrier to social mobility.

An initial £25 million fund will distribute grants of between £500,000 and £3 million to universities and colleges to attract and support disadvantaged students into postgraduate education.

After studying its success, the Government will then invest an additional £50m in removing financial or cultural barriers to participation in postgraduate education, as announced in the Spending Review. Extra funding will be expected from universities and businesses, bringing this to around £100 million.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said:

'Postgraduate study is good for students, good for universities, and good for the economy.

We want talented graduates from all backgrounds to feel inspired and able to continue their education.

By removing financial barriers for more masters courses, this potential £125 million investment will provide a big boost to our internationally renowned postgraduate sector.'

The announcement comes as HEFCE today published a review showing students’ economic background, school history and undergraduate institution all play a role in determining levels of enrolment at postgraduate level.

The 'Postgraduate education in England and Northern Ireland' report also highlights that the English postgraduate sector is globally successful, and postgraduates gain considerable benefits from their study, including increased employability and earnings.

Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE Chief Executive, said:

'Postgraduate education in England thrives in a climate of limited regulation and shared contributions from individuals, government and business.

The funding we are announcing today will help universities and colleges to develop partnerships that fit their particular strengths and interests, encouraging students into postgraduate education and in many cases, postgraduate research.'

Notes

1. HEFCE’s £25 million investment will fund pilot projects (of between £300,000 and £3 million) at universities and colleges that stimulate students’ progression into taught postgraduate education, and subsequently postgraduate research. It will encourage universities to test different ways of financing study, attract under-represented students, and work with industry to enhance the contribution postgraduate education makes to the economy and society. Universities and colleges will apply for the money this year, and it will reach students in 2014/15.

2. The National Scholarship Programme, which currently supports disadvantaged undergraduates, will refocus on postgraduate students from 2015/16, providing £50 million of funding, with additional investment from universities. Work to widen access at undergraduate level will continue, as responsibility has shifted from Government to universities, which are expected to increase their investment in widening access by £100 million over the next four years, reaching £670 million in 2016/17.

3. HEFCE currently provides around £120 million per year for taught postgraduates and £240 million for research postgraduates.

4. The documents published by HEFCE today are:

5. The January 2012 grant letter to HEFCE from BIS made specific requests with regard to postgraduate provision, as follows:

‘We are pleased that the Council is taking the lead on gathering evidence to improve our understanding of the purpose and characteristics of, and outcomes from, postgraduate study, with the intention of reviewing postgraduate participation following the changes to undergraduate funding. We also note the progress the Council is making, with its HE Public Information Steering Group, towards identifying what further information might usefully be provided to prospective postgraduate students to help them make informed choices about what and where to study. Until the findings from this work become clear [...] the Council should in any case take steps as far as possible to support postgraduate provision.’ 

6. The government's economic policy objective is to achieve 'strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries.' It set four ambitions in the ‘Plan for Growth’, published at Budget 2011:

  • to create the most competitive tax system in the G20
  • to make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business
  • to encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy
  • to create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe.

Work is underway across government to achieve these ambitions, including progress on more than 250 measures as part of the Growth Review. Developing an Industrial Strategy gives new impetus to this work by providing businesses, investors and the public with more clarity about the long-term direction in which the government wants the economy to travel.