From  Britain after decades of the decline of its heavy industry, it is still one of the intellectual powerhouses of the in europe and the world – starting new ideas that solve new global problems and evolving new technology that keeps the economy growing. To maintain this position, however, our workshop needs a steady supply of raw material in the shape of well-educated postgraduate students. What can be done to stop this supply from danger of drying up.
The number of UK students on postgraduate taught degree courses has begun to decline after a decade of relatively high growth, according to a new Hefce report that gives an overview of postgraduate study in England and Northern Ireland. An earlier report from Universities UK, The Funding Environment for Universities, also shows the total number of students on postgraduate taught courses in the UK slid by 5 % in 2011-12.

Initially, this fall in UK and EU students was more than matched by increases in students from more economically dynamic regions outside Europe. But now their numbers have also started to slip, hit by a tougher visa regime and increased competition from rapidly growing universities overseas.
Meanwhile, last year’s arrival of much higher variable tuition fees for UK and other EU undergraduates will, from 2015, make it harder for heavily indebted 21-year-olds graduating under the new system to feel they can afford to embark on a postgraduate taught course.

Any sustained slide in the number of students on postgraduate taught courses is deeply worrying, because it creates a bottleneck in the intellectual supply pipeline that ultimately produces what we might call ultra-skilled workers: our future research scientists, academics and leading thinkers educated in the humanities and social sciences. Postgraduate taught courses are a standard route to postgraduate research degrees, which are in turn essential for sustaining our world-class academic workforce.

Against this backdrop, we welcome the government’s announcement of £75m to support postgraduates from disadvantaged circumstances, though we regret that the chancellor has found the money largely by reducing financial aid to undergraduates from such backgrounds. The government hopes that extra funding by employers and universities will raise this total to £100m. We hope they will rise to the challenge. The money is clearly needed – to an increasing degree the postgraduate ranks are filled by wealthier students, according to the Hefce report.

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