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Research highlights falling demand for postgraduate study from UK students

The full extent to which postgraduate programmes in England are being propped up by demand from international students has been revealed in a government study.

Data collected from 20 universities across the country covering seven years to 2011-12 shows that over 70 per cent of all applications for taught postgraduate courses and two thirds for research postgraduate programmes were from students outside the European Union.

Only a fifth of applications came from home students. A report on the findings published by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills also shows that the proportion of applications from UK students for taught postgraduate courses fell every year from 2008/09 to 14 per cent in 2011-12.

Institutions taking part in the research suggested the proportion of applications from UK students is likely to decline still further as a result of the introduction of higher tuition fees for undergraduate courses.

In another national study, researchers found that less than a fifth of students plan to go onto postgraduate study within six months of graduating, but 44 per cent expect to do so sometime further in the future.

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of over 103,000 final year students who answered additional questions in the National Student Survey relating to their intentions after graduating said they would definitely not, or were unlikely to, return to postgraduate study, while 25 per cent were unsure.

The findings, which are published in a report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will be used as a baseline for future similar studies that will chart the impact of higher fees on students’ plans as later cohorts feed through the system.

Get the full picture from HEi-know: Briefing Report 116 (Hefce report); Briefing Report 118 (BIS report)

*HEFCE has also announced the 20 successful postgraduate projects which will benefit from a new £25 million Postgraduate Support Scheme.

The scholarship programme will support 2,800 postgraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds at 40 institutions across the UK.

The students will receive funding for financial and pastoral support, mentoring and networking, curricula change, funded studentships, work placements and a variety of bursary and loan schemes.

Among the successful projects is a Brunel University initiative which will provide 40 studentships for the Women in Engineering programme, and 20 studentships for its Industrial Master's programme.

Another project, led by Durham University, aims to create a Credit Union between staff, students and alumni. This would provide postgraduate taught master's tuition fee loans and student mobility funds.

A project at the University of Worcester will develop a taught masters course in business, whose recruitment focuses strongly on students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and low participation neighbourhoods or with  disabilities. The postgraduate programme will include financial support, work experience or business start-up support for all disciplines.

David Willetts, the Universities and Science Minister, said: “Postgraduate study is good for students, good for universities, and good for the economy.

“This £25 million investment will help develop partnerships, explore different ways of financing postgraduate study, and attract students from less advantaged backgrounds to postgraduate education. It will also provide a big boost to our internationally renowned postgraduate sector.”