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Postgraduate numbers up despite higher undergraduate debt

Students graduating with higher fee debt are not being put off going on to postgraduate study, new data suggests.

Annual HE in England figures, published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, are the first to look at postgraduate numbers for students affected by the undergraduate fee reforms in 2012-13.

The report shows record numbers of students – 15,300 - started full-time postgraduate research courses in 2015/16.

Numbers grew by 5.1 per cent in 2015-16 (around 700 entrants) compared with the previous year, following increases of 4.6 per cent in 2014-15 and 4 per cent in 2013-14. It means that numbers are almost 50 per cent higher in 2015-16 than they were in the early 2000s.

The number of UK and other EU students starting part-time postgraduate research courses also increased by 3.7 per cent in 2015-16.

There was a slight decrease in the numbers starting full-time postgraduate taught courses of 0.8 per cent in 2015-16, but numbers have been broadly stable for the past four years. Entry to part-time postgraduate programmes increased for the first time in five years in 2015-16, by 5.7 per cent.

Universities had expressed concerns that students graduating with a big undergraduate debt could be less likely to sign up to further study, and more debt.

But the report said: “The data indicates that these reforms have not so far had a large impact on postgraduate entry.”

The number of international students, who make up almost half of all full-time entrants to postgraduate programmes, fell slightly in 2014-15 by 0.9 per cent to 83,765.

They remain, however, 4.9 per cent (or 3,915 students) higher than in 2010-11.

China remains the single largest market for international postgraduate entry, comprising 25 per cent of entrants into full-time postgraduate taught masters programmes. Numbers increased by 2.4 per cent in 2014/15.

Indian entrants were down by 11 per cent, however, to 5,380 in 2014-15. There were also decreases in the numbers of entrants from Bangladesh (down by 25.8 per cent or 225 students), Pakistan (down by 14.0 per cent or 190 students) and Nigeria (down by 8.1 per cent or 390 students).

belchonock / 123RF
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