University disputes plans for postgrad loan system

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The University of Leeds is one of six universities to urge the government not to adopt a student loan system for postgraduate education.

The proposal is designed to enable social mobility amongst the students who study on postgraduate courses, but Leeds University, amongst a consortium of Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle, Warwick and York, disputes this.

Providing state-backed loans was proposed in a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) which suggested a £10,000 loan to cover the costs of tuition was ‘workable and affordable’ and could be paid back at 9% on earnings between £15,000-£21,000 a year.

The consortium say that students that choose not to stay on as postgraduates, make their decision because they do not want to add to their debt burden, and so the loans would not help the underprivileged into postgraduate education. The group of universities suggest instead targeting scholarships at the underprivileged.

But Rick Muir, author of the IPPR report, said a mass scholarship programme would be unaffordable. His report claims the postgraduate loan non-repayment rate would be only 7%, much lower than the 40-45% of undergraduate loans which go unpaid. He said, ‘I’m in favour of scholarships but there’s a limit to how many we could afford.’

The Current system requires students to apply for privately provided Professional and Career Development Loans. These loans are not guaranteed to be accepted, and the government pays the interest while the student is studying. There are no minimum income boundaries on repayment.

Many people who do not take their education to a postgraduate level cite the reason as high tuition fees, and so the loan would be aimed at encouraging less well-off students to take on a PGT course.

Speaking to The Gryphon, a Masters student said, ‘I think that having an undergraduate style loan system would be a great idea. I only managed to fund mine through two scholarships and help from my family, and without these I would have been unable to take my master’s.’

A student hopeful to take a PGT has explained, ‘Without the financial support of my parents, I would be unable to take the Masters, I can’t see how widening student loans to cover postgraduates would not help people in my situation.’

In the Vice-Chancellor’s ‘My Week’ post, it was explained that, ‘The University of Leeds, as part of a broader partnership with the Universities of Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Warwick and York, is part of a new Postgraduate Support Scheme which is investigating and testing a range of ways to attract under-represented groups into postgraduate education.’

“Widening access to postgraduate study and the professions” – is part-funded by Higher Education Funding Council for England and the University’s own Alumni Footsteps Fund. The project is piloting financial and academic initiatives, investigating the role of information, advice and guidance, and collecting large datasets to inform and support evaluation.’

The numbers of students studying on postgraduate courses has been declining steadily in recent years from a peak of 160,000 in 2009-10 to the current level of 140,000 students a year, and the IPRR also thinks the loan system could encourage a reversal of this trend.

Chancellor George Osborne has said there will be an announcement on postgraduate funding in next month’s autumn statement.

Jake Hookem

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