Following the publication of the Diamond Review’s Interim report, Gareth Rees considers the implications for postgraduate funding in Wales.
The principle of fair access is central to debates about higher education: almost everybody agrees that no one should be denied the opportunity to go to university because they cannot afford to pay. This is why we have a subsidised loans system. However, this principle has not been applied to postgraduate study, where there is no subsidised loan system at all. Rick Muir writes about his latest report for IPPR which shows why we need such a system for postgraduates and how it would be affordable for government to implement.
It will not have escaped the notice of regular readers of this site that attention is finally turning towards the future of postgraduate provision. Others have focused on elements of the debate such as the widening of participation to postgraduate studies. Another area which is gathering momentum is the push for a postgraduate equivalent of the National Student Survey and the natural extension of the Key Information Sets to include postgraduate programmes. But are we ready for this big move and do we understand the effects of these at undergraduate level yet?
I’m not quite sure when or how it happened, but suddenly we are all madly concerned about widening access to postgraduate study. Before Christmas I wrote about the postgraduate policy vacuum – that the government seemed to have no fixed plans to build postgraduates into national strategy in either research or teaching.
But policy, it would seem, abhors a vacuum, and since the New Year we have seen a flurry of activity from within and outside BIS. The 1994 Group chose to make postgraduates the issue in early January. The Higher Education Commission launched an inquiry into postgraduate education. BIS had a roundtable. HEFCE replaced the teaching grant at taught postgraduate level for bands A-C. And last week the Open University held a national conference on widening participation to postgraduate education.
During the festive season it is traditional to turn our minds to those less fortunate than ourselves, and so it is appropriate that we take a minute to reflect on those poor neglected postgraduate students. It is incredible to think that during the upheavals we have seen in the past twelve months of higher education policymaking, postgraduate students have barely got a mention. If undergraduate students are to be ‘at the heart of the system’, it looks like postgraduate students are an amputated limb.
I have spent more time in higher education as a postgraduate than an undergraduate and given my perspective, the first time I read the HE White Paper, I thought I had missed something. There was virtually no reference to postgraduate students in the much-awaited document. When I say ‘no’ reference there are a handful of paragraphs on page 21 that refer to other studies, particularly the 2010 Adrian Smith review, but the sense appears to be that this White Paper has passed the issue of postgraduate education back to Adrian Smith and HEFCE for ‘continued review’. Smith’s initial review highlighted that in contrast to undergraduate study / participation etc. we know relatively little about postgraduates and their requirements. As such the absence of a reference to postgraduates, particularly taught postgraduate students, concerns me in relation to two areas.