A looming crisis in postgraduate education
Reports of an 8% drop in postgraduate applications have refocused attention of the failure of the Browne Report and the subsequent White Paper to address how postgraduate education is to be funded. At present, there are few grants available for students and no comprehensive loan system. The dire nature of the situation was reported by Paul Wakeling for CPU back in September 2011.
The Browne Report satisfied itself with evidence that the initial introduction of undergraduate fees had little impact on applications, but disregarded the potential consequences of the massive hike in fees that it was recommending, as John Holmwood reported on the Exquisite Life Research Blog.
That the recent fall in applications has occurred before the graduation of the first cohort of students to pay the £9000 undergraduate fee is significant and worrying. It is probably a response to universities beginning to bring postgraduate taught course fees into convergence with undergraduate fees (in practice, £12000 for a four-term academic year) which is happening by stealth across the sector. The Higher Education Commission, a cross-party group of MPs, has written of a ‘social mobility time-bomb’.
What is the response of the ideologues – ‘ Bright Blue’ – that drive the current Tory party agenda? The solution they suggest is to make undergraduate students pay for postgraduate education. The problem, for them, is the high cost of the otherwise ‘successful’ income-contingent loan scheme. The proposed solution, they write, is to “extend the loan repayment period or reduce the repayment income threshold”.
This is precisely what Andrew McGettigan and CPU have warned about. The ‘deal’ with undergraduate students – poor though it is – is set to be broken. A ‘tax’ of nine pence in the £ on incomes over £21,000 is set to be brought in on much lower incomes and extended for a longer period.
As CPU has also reported, expectations of higher graduate incomes in the future are also being called into question. The Tories pay lip service to social mobility, yet they seem to be preparing for lower earnings for many graduates by indicating moves to reduce the income threshold on loans, barely six months after the first cohort of students have entered into them. Was there ever a government so intent on taxing a small cohort of the population that does not exercise its power at the ballot box, while purporting to believe in the disincentives of high marginal rates of taxation? Certainly, the treatment of bankers is different.