Think tank searches for sustainable ways to fund postgrad education

In October of this year, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published its proposals for a scheme of state backed loans for postgraduate study in the United Kingdom.

Author of the publication, Rick Muir, highlighted “no one should be denied the opportunity to go to university because they cannot afford to pay” as the basis for the report on the IPPR website.

In this model, £10,000 would be offered to students enrolled in a taught master’s course which would then have to be repaid at 9 per cent of their future earnings between £15,000 and £21,000.

Furthermore, it is predicted that the non-repayment rate (known as the RAB charge) of this model will be 6.9 per cent, a markedly lower number than that for estimated undergraduate loan RAB charges which stand at 40-45 per cent.

Yet this scheme has come under criticism by a group of six Russell Group member universities for not being efficient in tackling the root cause of a decrease in postgraduate applications; increased burden of student loans.

According to Tony Strike, Director of Strategy, Planning and Change at the University of Sheffield, a third of undergraduate students opt out of the option of post graduate study due to the fear of increasing their student debt.

Furthermore, he believes that “the majority of postgraduate students are in the fortunate position that they can and do pay” making this scheme ineffective in the student demographic it is trying to target.

Attitudes towards the scheme are far more optimistic here at The University of Edinburgh, also a member of the Russell Group of universities.

Dash Sekhar, Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) Vice President Academic Affairs, believes that this scheme would be a welcome solution to target the homogenous, affluent nature of applicants.

Sekhar told The Student: “State-backed loans (with additional means-tested bursaries) are a way to open up the Postgraduate Taught sector to a much more diverse range of students than the current model, which definitely favours the privileged demographic of society.”

“This is an area that is being looked at nationally within Scotland and we are very supportive of the state-backed loan route.”

An alternative the consortium criticising this model is offering is one in which students are provided scholarships that are jointly funded by the government, universities, institutions as well as employers.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) earlier this year launched 20 pilot projects whereby over 2,800 students in over 40 universities would receive £25 million worth of scholarships, funded along similar lines.

Rick Muir, the brains behind the IPPR report, voiced his support for scholarships though not before pointing out the impracticalities of sustaining such a project on a long term basis.

He said: “If you say we’ll have £1bn that won’t be paid back, then that’s £1bn George Osborne will have to find from somewhere else.

“That is just not going to happen because there’s no money to do that.”

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