Study questions employability prospects for postgraduates

A postgraduate degree may not increase overall employability, a study by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HESCU) has shown.

Charlie Ball, deputy director of research at HESCU has suggested that funding cuts could make certain students profit less from a master’s qualification.

Ball told The Independent that whilst “there are sectors where, in order to meet an appropriate professional level, you need a master’s’’, there were other sectors in which a postgraduate would not necessarily lead to higher pay or higher employability prospects.

He cited engineering and social work as sectors which may require a master’s degree more than most.

Whilst undergraduate degrees are supported by the Student Loan system, in which fees are only paid back after a pay threshold is reached, the career and professional development loan (CPDL), offered to postgraduate students must be paid back immediately.

The CPDL is also accompanied by an interest level of 10 per cent, whilst undergraduate loans only receive interest when the loanee has a salary of £41,000 or more per annum.

Speaking to The Student, Clare Mackay, Head of Postgraduate Recruitment at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We cannot stress enough the importance of postgraduate study in terms of personal development’’.

“The wider attributes that postgraduate study encourages students to develop are central to the added value they subsequently bring to an employment context’’.

Dr Stephan Malinowski, Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Edinburgh, highlighted the importance of a postgraduate degree to his position. Speaking to The Student, he said: “I would neither be at a university nor teaching anywhere if I did not have a degree and a PhD but this goes without saying”.

A report by the Council of Industry and Higher Education in 2010 concluded that seven out of ten employers saw a master’s degree as essential to their jobs on offer.

In addition, recent data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) showed that 86.6 per cent of postgraduates found employment after graduation, compared to 64 per cent of first degree graduates.

Mike Russell, the former Scottish Education Secretary, warned that the number of Scottish postgraduate students studying in Scotland fell by 22 per cent in the last decade, and could lead to Scotland failing to compete internationally.

This followed the decision of a group of high profile vice-chancellors to reject proposals for the adoption of a state loan system for postgraduates last month.

The Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) proposed a system which would allow postgraduates to borrow £10,000. The loan would be paid back at a rate of 9 per cent of a wage between £15,000 and £21,000.

However, the proposals were rejected, with Tony Strike, the Director of Strategy, Planning and Change at the University of Sheffield, arguing that debt would discourage students from doing a postgraduate degree.

Steve Norman, Assistant Director of the Careers Service at the University of Edinburgh, told The Student that students should not “sleepwalk into postgraduate study but to (…) do some research on likely outcomes’’.

The undergraduate state loan system has received criticism of late. Earlier this month, a report by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) condemned the institution as “the worst of both worlds.”

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