Comment | Paving the Way for Postgrads

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You don’t have to look far to see the problems that come with staying on at university after graduation. Last week, Leeds Student ran a feature exploring the many hurdles students have to jump over when they decide whether or not to study for a masters. While it’s great that students are sharing tips about the best ways to raise the necessary cash, there’s a much bigger underling problem here.

It’s not hard to see why so many students think about doing a postgraduate course. With graduate career prospects looking bleak, staying in education can often be an appealing option. It can be a good way to standout in an increasingly competitive job market.  Bur it’s not just about making yourself more employable. Many consider it simply because they want to learn more about the subject they love.

Currently, the biggest problem facing prospective postgraduates is funding. You’ll have no doubt heard about the difficulties that come with raising the necessary cash.  While student finance enables students to get an undergraduate degree without paying for it until they’re earning a decent wage, there’s no real equivalent when it comes to postgraduates, who are more often than not asked to pay their fees upfront. Unsurprisingly, this acts as a major deterrent for students who would have otherwise considered going down that path.

But if we’re going to start thinking about lobbying the government or Universities themselves to put more money into postgraduate education, we need to ask ourselves, do we really want more people doing masters courses? Obviously, it isn’t the right option for everyone. But what we do want is for it to be more accessible for all those interested. The ultimate goal is that the students who currently write it off because of the financial barriers would be able to consider the option without haven’t to worry about paying for the course upfront. Maybe they’ll decide it’s the best choice for them, maybe they won’t, but the important thing is that they’ll be making that decision based on what’s best for themselves rather than whether or not their bank balance will be able to cover it.

Universities have made a real effort to get more students from disadvantaged backgrounds to come to university. But very little is done when it comes to making postgraduate education accessible for those who are less well off.  At the moment, it’s pretty much reserved for the very wealthy, the very lucky or for those who are willing to put themselves in a lot of debt. There needs to be significant changes if we want less people to be put off by the high costs of postgraduate degrees.

If the government believes in the value of postgraduate education, they ought to start tackling the financial barriers which prevent so many from pursuing it. It’d be unrealistic to demand that the high fees were scrapped entirely, but there’s certainly a legitimate case for a national system of loans so that students could pay back their fees once they’re in a steady job.  By refusing to take this option seriously, the government and the higher education sector as a whole, must acknowledge that many young people will continue to be shut out from postgraduate education. Until then, those that can’t pay up simply won’t consider it.

Alice Smart

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