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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Postgraduate Support Scheme: Invitation to submit funding proposals for pilot projects to stimulate taught postgraduate education

1. This letter invites proposals for £25 million funding for pilot projects that will test options for finance and activity aimed at stimulating progression into taught postgraduate education, particularly among currently under-represented groups and in areas that support the Government’s ambitions for economic growth.

2. The deadline for responses is noon on 16 September 2013. We recognise that this is a challenging timescale, but it will allow activities to begin from January 2014, to inform admissions in 2014-15 and policy and practice from 2015-16. This being the case, we encourage institutions to contact their HEFCE institutional team to discuss ideas ahead of submission. Proposals must be submitted using the template at Annex A.

3. Projects should be undertaken between January 2014 and August 2015. We recognise that this does not align with the traditional academic year, but we wish to provide maximum flexibility to support the development and implementation of activities which may extend beyond this. Participants will be expected to share and discuss their findings with each other and with a HEFCE steering group during the period of the scheme.

4. Postgraduate education has become increasingly prominent in higher education policy discussions since the Government’s June 2011 White Paper ‘Higher Education: Students at the Heart of the System’). Particular concerns are that postgraduate fees, which are unregulated, could rise; and that since postgraduate students are not eligible for the same student finance arrangements as undergraduate students, demand for postgraduate study could be affected by the higher fees now being charged to undergraduates. We are carefully monitoring fee levels and student intentions through the Higher Education Statistics Agency and the new ‘Intentions after graduation’ section added to the National Student Survey. The latter is discussed in more detail in ‘Postgraduate education in England and Northern Ireland: Overview report 2013’ (HEFCE 2013/14).

5. The Postgraduate Support Scheme (PSS) forms part of HEFCE’s efforts to support postgraduate education. Following HEFCE’s January 2012 grant letter from the Government, the Board agreed:

  • to provide an additional £1,100 for each taught postgraduate student in price groups A to C from 2012-13 and to continue providing an allocation reflecting the longer duration of the academic year for many taught postgraduate students, thereby maintaining support for taught postgraduates at its level prior to the undergraduate fees and finance reforms, and
  • to provide an additional £35 million for postgraduate supervision within our quality-related research funding.

6. We have also initiated research projects into funding, fees and costs; student demand and progression; and information and outcomes for taught postgraduate students. A full summary of our work to date concerning postgraduate provision can be found in HEFCE 2013/14.

Purpose of this funding

7. The primary purpose of this funding is to test options for finance and activity that will help HEFCE, Government and institutions develop strategies to ensure the continued success of postgraduate education, and particularly the taught element of the sector, from 2015. Part of such strategies will be to learn more about the barriers to accessing postgraduate taught programmes, recognising the importance of those programmes as a route into postgraduate research, and to develop projects to address those barriers.

8. Proposed activities should seek to ensure that taught postgraduate education:

  • is accessible to the most capable students regardless of their background, thereby maximising its contribution to social mobility and the diversity of the professions, including the higher education profession
  • continues to be a successful and sustainable sector at the heart of higher education teaching, research and knowledge exchange, thereby supplying the highest level of skills and knowledge to industry, the professions and public services, and attracting students from around the world.

9. Although broad trends can be observed across various student characteristics, under-represented groups in postgraduate study vary across subject areas, qualification and institutions. For fuller discussion of the factors influencing whether students progress from an undergraduate to a graduate degree, see ‘Trends in transition from first degree to postgraduate study: Qualifiers between 2002-03 and 2010-11’ (HEFCE 2013/13).

10. In addition to identifying and addressing barriers to progression into taught postgraduate education, we wish to explore the contribution such education makes to innovation and productivity, and the ways in which this could be stimulated, particularly in areas where the Government is developing growth strategies. For both purposes, we seek to attract funding from other sources, and to gather evidence and experience that will influence longer-term approaches to policy, funding and practice at this level. Although this call for submissions focuses on taught postgraduate education, we recognise that this serves as a route into postgraduate research, and we are interested in supporting projects that will address any barriers to this.

11. In addition, we will prioritise projects that:

  • address skills needs identified by industry that support the Government’s growth sectors
  • support the progression of under-represented groups into the professions and into postgraduate research (institutions should reflect on their own understanding of which groups are under-represented within their postgraduate provision and may wish to develop projects which target these groups)
  • enhance our understanding of the part-time taught postgraduate economy, of the barriers to the admission and retention of part-time students at this level, and of the ways in which these could be addressed
  • support students who would not otherwise have undertaken taught postgraduate education
  • attract matched funding from other sources which would not otherwise have been provided.

12. We expect that a substantial proportion of our funding, and the matched funding it attracts, will be routed through institutions to students.

13. Our expectation is that activities supported by the PSS will link funding from HEFCE, institutions and other sources to test different ways of stimulating the domestic taught postgraduate market. Such projects could involve the following.

  1. Engagement with professional bodies to enhance access to taught postgraduate programmes that serve as a route into the professions.
  2. Matched funding from donors and institutions for bursaries for taught postgraduate students.
  3. Partnerships between institutions and lenders, individually or in groups, to explore innovative models of financing taught postgraduate study.
  4. Joint funding with industry of taught postgraduate programmes.
  5. Outreach activities for undergraduate students from under-represented backgrounds, to encourage and support their progression into postgraduate study.
  6. Innovations to minimise the cost and maximise the accessibility of taught postgraduate education.
  7. Research into the motivations and requirements of part-time taught postgraduates, and models for stimulating part-time study at this level.
  8. Measures to support the retention and success of taught postgraduates who are part-time or from currently under-represented groups.
  9. Development of indicators to monitor patterns and inform funding at this level, including typologies of participation and provision.
  10. Research to enhance our understanding of the information available to taught postgraduate students (for example, an examination of the efficacy and patterns of use of existing web-sites).

Funding and eligibility

14. We will provide funding on the following basis.

  1. There is a total of £25 million available for eligible projects. Maximum funding of £3 million per proposal, and minimum funding requests of £500,000.
  2. Funding is available to support HEFCE-fundable postgraduate taught education. Taught postgraduate programmes which are funded by other public authorities are not eligible for PSS funds.
  3. The funding is not generally available for capital projects or capital elements within projects, but we will consider this option if there is a particularly strong case.
  4. We will accept one bid per institution. Through collaboration, institutions may be involved in more than one bid, but each collaborative bid requires a lead institution. Institutions may not act as lead institution on more than one bid.
  5. Collaborative bids may not exceed the £3 million maximum funding.
  6. Matched funding is not an eligibility requirement, but we would like to attract additional funding from sources beyond HEFCE, including institutions themselves, as part of this pilot project. Bids which include matched funding from other sources will therefore be given priority. Any matched funding included in the bid must be derived from clearly identified sources and must be generated as new activity; it may not be from sources already secured for other purposes.
  7. We do not expect to fund activities already under way or those which would take place irrespective of this call for proposals.

15. The funding is available to higher education institutions and to further education colleges with over 100 directly-funded full-time equivalent postgraduate taught students.

16. We anticipate supporting a balanced portfolio, including a broad range of activities from a variety of institutions. We expect to maintain contact with all projects, to maximise the feedback to policy development and increase the evidence base which will inform the activity of institutions throughout the sector.

Assessment criteria

17. Applications will be assessed through judging the following elements of each submission:

  1. Evidence that the proposal identifies issues associated with the taught postgraduate market and explains specifically which of these it seeks to address.
  2. A statement of the activity which will be delivered, the resources which will be deployed and how quickly activity will start after funding is awarded, This statement should reflect the PSS’s aim to benefit the 2014-15 taught postgraduate student cohort and feed into policy from 2015-16.
  3. A statement of the outputs (including volumes of activity) to be delivered, and of how success will be measured from the perspective of the institution and any collaborative partners.
  4. Evidence that the institution has the expertise and capacity already in place to ensure effective and rapid delivery. Proposals should show how resources from across the institution, and from wider collaborative networks, will be brought together to form a coherent project.
  5. Evidence that the proposed activity is genuinely additional to that already planned. We expect that some bids may include activities that are a normal part of developing provision (such as curriculum development, course design, or developing pedagogy at postgraduate levels), and ask that institutions provide a strong rationale for additional funding where these elements are included.
  6. A financial statement, using a full economic costing approach, showing the total costs of the programme of proposed activities, the total amount of PSS funding sought, institutions’ own contributions, any matched funding, and how the funding will be deployed. There should also be a statement which clarifies which proportion of PSS funds and which proportion of total funds will be routed directly to students.
  7. The value for public money derived from the proposed project. We will assess this on the basis of a project’s potential to influence and provide benefits to other institutions across the sector, including providing evidence to inform government policy. Bids which bring in matched funding from private sources will present greater value for public money than those which request HEFCE funds as a higher proportion of the total project cost. We will also be concerned to ensure that a substantial proportion of funding is routed through institutions to students.
  8. The degree to which the project can form part of a balanced portfolio of projects covering a range of activities and institutions, and can thereby help to inform policy and practice.

18. Criteria will be weighted to prioritise proposals which meet the interests set out in paragraph 11, in particular the focus of activities within proposals, the suitability of the approach, and the value for money derived from proposed projects.

Application process, selection and timescale

19. Institutions are invited to submit proposals for funding, and encouraged to speak to HEFCE institutional team contacts to discuss potential ideas ahead of submission. Institutions wishing to apply for funding should complete the template at Annex A, and e-mail it to by noon on 16 September 2013. Late submissions will not be accepted unless previously agreed.

20. Proposals should not exceed the maximum length specified in the template. There should be no annexes except for the purpose of Freedom of Information requests (see paragraphs 26 to 28 below).

21. A total of £25 million, with a maximum of £3 million per proposal, will be made available to institutions from January 2014 to August 2015. A longer payment period may be appropriate in a limited number of cases.

22. There will be a single assessment process. Following submission, bids will be assessed internally by two HEFCE colleagues and then validated by an external panel, comprising expert members of HEFCE’s Strategic Advisory Committees. The validation panel will consider the diversity of activities and institutions and may recommend a final set of projects to be supported, taking into account these factors as well as the outcomes of the internal assessment.

23. Following assessment and validation at the end of October, the HEFCE Executive will approve the allocation of funding to successful proposals at its meeting in early November 2013. Institutions whose bids are successful will be informed in the week following that meeting.

24. The approximate timetable is set out below:



September 16 (noon)

Deadline for submission of proposals

Sept 16 to mid-October

Assessment of proposals

Late October

Validation panel meeting

Early November

Panel recommendations approved by HEFCE Executive

January 2014

Approved projects under way

December 2014

Interim report and meeting

August 2015

Final reports and meeting

Monitoring arrangements

25. Successful projects will be expected to engage with the HEFCE steering group and with other institutions running pilot projects. As set out in the table above, we anticipate at least two meetings, an interim and a final meeting, at which effects, impacts, and lessons learned can be shared and fed into developing policy. We also expect that successful projects will engage in regular dialogue with various members of the HEFCE steering group, as we aim to gather relevant intelligence throughout the projects. Additional monitoring arrangements may be agreed for individual projects and set out in the award letter.

Freedom of Information Act 2000

26. HEFCE is subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which gives a public right of access to information held by a public authority. This may mean that applications, communications between us and institutions, information arising from the work undertaken or its outputs become subject to disclosure if a valid request is made to us. We will comply with such requests in accordance with the legislation and our own policies.

27. Institutions can, if they wish, provide potentially sensitive information (such as information relating to commercial interests) in a separate annex attached to the application form. This will highlight to us that there are concerns over disclosure. With annexes, the proposal must not exceed the maximum length as stated in the application template. Where we consider it to be appropriate and practicable, we will seek the views of applicants before disclosing this information. The applicant acknowledges that information provided in the annex is of indicative value only and that HEFCE may nevertheless be obliged to disclose this information. Our assumption will be that all information in the main application documents can be disclosed on request.

28. Further information about the Freedom of Information Act can be found on the Information Commissioner’s web-site.

Further Information

29. If you have queries, please contact your HEFCE institutional teams. A searchable list of institutional contacts is available. Also see our list of frequently asked questions.

Yours sincerely

Sir Alan Langlands

Chief Executive

Date: July 2013

Ref: Circular letter 18/2013

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Postgraduate education, Access and student success, Research and innovation

Enquiries should be directed to:

HEFCE contacts for institutions can be found at