Securing success in postgraduate support

This week, UUK hosted a timely round-table discussion to help inform and influence Government’s future postgraduate strategy around loans, access and support.

With the start of the Masters loans scheme only a matter of months away in England, we invited representatives from BIS, HEFCE, OFFA, SLC, NUS, and a host of sector practitioners, to consider two key questions:

  1. What action is needed to ensure the new Masters loans scheme is a success in 2016–17?
  2. What steps need to be considered in order to achieve wider success in postgraduate access and support?

After consideration of the evidence base, one of the immediate challenges identified was communications: how much awareness is there within universities, and among prospective Masters entrants, of the parameters and mechanics behind the upcoming scheme?

It’s clear there is some good work already underway within the sector in this regard, but there is certainly more to be done if the loans scheme is to be a success from the outset, and works to stabilise or help grow the UK PGT population.

Recognising the importance of getting this right, UUK has agreed to work swiftly with Government and the SLC as they finalise their loans communications strategy. In the interests of ensuring consistency of advice across the sector, we will be helping to refine and then disseminate a suite of communications material, including a set of FAQs for students and universities. These details will need to be communicated far and wide, and we will work to ensure this reaches all relevant practitioners, academics and careers advisors, very shortly.

However, we know that loans are not a one-stop-shop to address every student’s barriers to study. So, our second key area of focus at the round table was how to widen access and participation – something incredibly familiar in an undergraduate context, but now rising up the agenda at postgraduate level. What is clear is that, even with loan availability, there remain a number of other issues affecting student decision making which need to be considered in order to secure a successful, sustainable postgraduate system in the long-term.

For example, what is the best way to raise the aspirations of students who have never thought that Masters study is for them, or provide potential returners to education with the confidence to take that step?

The Postgraduate Support Scheme (PSS) pilots highlighted some fascinating and innovative ways in which universities are working to ensure greater PGT representation for students from currently under-represented groups. However, the 20 pilots evaluated also highlighted a latent and “frustrated” demand for PGT study, particularly among disadvantaged students.

Conscious that the PSS is soon coming to an end, we want to ensure that widening participation at postgraduate level doesn’t slip off the radar, and that evidence from the PSS can continue to inform Government’s wider postgraduate strategy.

We have therefore decided to consider the conclusions of the PSS around widening participation and feed them into our work leading the Social Mobility Advisory Group. The Group, which was set up following an invitation from the government, will provide advice to the government and support for English universities to improve access and long-term success for under-represented groups in higher education.

The Group will publish a report in the summer. In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with those present at this week’s round-table to help secure a successful loans scheme that will enable individuals to upskill and reskill in-line with their own aspirations and with the wider skills needs of the UK economy.

Nicola Dandridge

About Nicola Dandridge

Chief Executive of Universities UK.
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