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Postgraduates: policy and funding

Current changes to the funding and regulation arrangements for higher education (HE) will lead to considerable changes for the whole HE sector. This includes study at postgraduate level. For this reason, we are taking a more co-ordinated approach to policy and funding in this area.

Our goals

Postgraduates make significant contributions to the UK economy, society and culture, and the Government has set out its continued support for postgraduate study.

As part of the wider changes to HE funding and regulation, the Government has also asked us to review participation at this level.

Through this work we will examine the effect of the HE reforms on the postgraduate sector, both taught and research. We will also look at the information needs of and about postgraduate students. To do this, we will draw on a wide base of evidence from a variety of sources.

The Government's recent White Paper on HE, and our Business Plan include full details of our goals.

Programme of work

Our programme of work will focus on building up a better understanding of the postgraduate sector. In particular we will look for any vulnerabilities that may come about as a result of the funding changes.

The programme will:

  • Review our existing funding and policy structures that affect postgraduate provision, and ensure that these work together.
  • Provide additional funding support in 2012-13, and conduct further work to inform our longer-term approach to funding.
  • Provide additional funding for the supervision of postgraduate research students, and link the allocation of this funding to research quality, from 2012-13.
  • Interrogate existing data (such as from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and review reports) to identify existing trends in postgraduate study.
  • Commission research into the information needs of taught postgraduate students and into the potential benefits of a national postgraduate survey.
  • Monitor trends and assess the potential effect of the undergraduate funding reforms on taught postgraduate students.
  • Establish what information we still need to improve our understanding of the characteristics of the postgraduate population, and commission further research if necessary.
  • Work with the research councils and other funders to ensure a complementary approach.
  • Maintain awareness of and feed into other work in the sector in this area.

We have prepared a briefing document that outlines our current work strands in more detail.

In January 2013, we hosted a roundtable discussion to discuss perceived challenges to postgraduate taught (PGT) funding and provision.

The meeting was chaired by Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE Chief Executive, and attended by the Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science. Other delegates included representatives from higher education institutions and related sector organisations, industry and banks.

In June 2013, we held a seminar for invited sector representatives to discuss HEFCE’s work on the postgraduate cross-cutting theme.  We shared  the findings of HEFCE’s evidence gathering on postgraduate education, and sought delegates’ views on the key policy issues arising from this evidence.

Working in partnership

In developing our approach, we will also seek opportunities to present our work to, and obtain information from, the sector.

We intend to work closely with others to ensure a joined-up approach to postgraduate work.

Partners will include universities and colleges, the Government, the Research Councils and other appropriate organisations.

More generally, we would welcome any comments on our proposed approach.

We held a seminar on 4 May with representatives from the sector to discuss the future of postgraduate provision. The programme and delegate list and a note of the event are attached below.

Seeking input from institutions 

In late 2012, we visited a sample of seven universities to discuss their approaches to postgraduate provision. This note summarises those discussions, which provided a valuable input into HEFCE’s postgraduate policy. 

Information needs of postgraduate taught students

Supporting the information needs of postgraduate taught students is a key part of our coordinated approach to policy in this area. 

Current research

In 2013 HEFCE published two pieces of research into prospective postgraduate student information needs on behalf of the UK funding bodies:

The research identified that the information postgraduate taught students look for is often fragmented and at times out of date. This work also concluded that a national student survey of postgraduate students would be unlikely to provide the information sought by prospective postgraduate taught students at this time. 

As a result, the four funding bodies commissioned The Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC) to undertake further work to help support providers in identifying ways of enhancing the information which they provide for prospective postgraduate students.

In April 2014 we published ‘CRAC 2014 Understanding how people choose to pursue taught postgraduate study’. This research demonstrated that prospective postgraduate taught students are a diverse and complex group with specific information needs. The research identified that there are a number of key factors that need to be in place before a prospective postgraduate taught student can reach the application stage, which can be supported by information (for example, funding, course costs, course content).

Guidance for institutions

The UK funding bodies have developed guidance informed by the research, inviting providers to enhance, where necessary the information they provide in this area. This guidance is designed to support providers in addressing the following:

  • Information to provide: The themes or types of information that prospective postgraduate taught students want, particularly those re-entering higher education after a period away from study.
  • Information delivery: Aspects of the design and communication of information that may facilitate prospective students through their decision-making journeys.

Support for prospective students

Prospective postgraduate taught students will also be supported through an online tool ‘PGT Choices’ that is currently being developed by the UK funding bodies and will be launched in 2015. The tool is designed to help prospective students in this area identify questions to ask when deciding what and where to study, and to signpost them to sources of relevant information.  

Further information

Further information is available from Emma Creasey, Higher Education Policy Advisor, e-mail e.creasey@hefce.ac.uk, tel 0117 931 7225.

Page last updated 16 April 2014

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