The Sutton Trust has warned that careers which were formerly available through A-level qualifications now actively seek out those with postgraduate degrees.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Trust, has highlighted an additional burden for those with undergraduate degrees, noting: “An undergraduate degree has become essential for many careers. A postgraduate degree is increasingly expected.”
The Sutton Trust has warned that such a drastic change has been driven by a tripling of those holding postgraduate qualifications over the past fifteen years. The change, the organisation has stated, will be detrimental to an already widening gap between wealthier and poorer students, creating a wall of “social mobility”, and will allow postgraduate courses to become the “preserve of the better off student”, according to its chairman.
Laura Theobald, UoNSU’s Postgraduate Officer, told Impact that in fact “postgraduate study is a means of social mobility”.
However she also noted that “there isn’t a way for students to finance postgraduate study except through commercial loans and/or family backing. The NUS is shopping around a proposal for government backed loans that in the short-term will make it free to access, but long term we need to think about how higher education is made more accessible and affordable for all students at all levels”.
A postgraduate degree is increasingly expected.
Research carried out by LSE and Surrey University on behalf of the Sutton Trust has revealed that the number of working Britons aged 26 to 60 holding postgraduate degrees has now reached 11% (2.1 million people) a significant increase from just 4% in 1996. Peter Lampl has praised the increase stating “a better educated workforce should be good for Britain,” but explicitly warns “it is essential that this should not come at the expense of widening inequalities of access to these professions.”
The importance of a postgraduate qualification has been exposed by the study, which finds that those with a higher degree earned an average of £5,500 more a year. This gives them a potential “postgraduate premium” of earning £200,000 more during the length of their career compared to other undergraduates.
However Lampl estimates that graduates already facing debts in excess of £40,000 from undergraduate courses may be put off by “the prospect of funding a further £20,000 a year in fees and living costs, without having access to student loans.”
The Trust’s summary does not discourage the increasing numbers opting to stay on in education after undergraduate degrees, and even moves to encourage the trend. More importantly, the results of the study place a greater emphasis on improving a flawed funding system for talented but poorer students, and states clearly that all students should be able to make the choice of whether or not to move to a postgraduate course without worries of financing.