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  • Widening Participation in Postgraduate Education Posted on 13 August 2013

    So the next frontier for widening participation is postgraduate education.  Alan Milburn described it as a ‘social mobility time bomb’ and it now seems as if the researchers and policy makers have also got concerns.  They are right to be concerned.   Whilst the heterogeneity of postgraduate provision and its relatively unregulated status have meant that it has been easily overlooked.  Research commissioned by the HEFCE, Sutton Trust and the Higher Education Academy show that students from low socio-economic backgrounds are moving away from postgraduate studies that are not funded (and that’s quite a lot – most of it if you are in the arts). 


    Graduates who attended an independent secondary school were more likely to progress to postgraduate education than those who attended a state school (Wakeling et al).  Those from high undergraduate participation areas were more likely than those from low undergraduate participation areas to go onto postgraduate research or taught study.  It was only ‘other’ postgraduate study, which includes vocational courses such as teacher training which attracted more students from low undergraduate participation areas (HEFCE 14/2013).  However you define widening participation you will find under-representation at postgraduate level.  But when considering what to do, a blanket approach will not work, subject discipline, level of study and funding availability all play a part so be on top of your institutional profile at a detailed level.


    The refocus of the National Scholarship Programme is to be welcomed – it felt a little messy with the undergraduate bursaries on offer by universities.  But the NSP will be available on a competitive basis so make sure you know what is happening in your institution. 


    And don’t forget to bid for the funds that HEFCE announced over the summer.  £25m has been made available by the HEFCE for proposals that will stimulate the UK postgraduate market, particularly among those that are currently under-represented.  Proposals are sought that ensure that postgraduate taught education is accessible to the most capable students regardless of their background.  With a deadline for proposals by the 16 September 2013, you will need to get your skates on.


    My top three tips would be:

    • Build your postgraduate student profile by subject, funding source and socio-economic background
    • Understand the motivations of your postgraduate students by subject
    • Ensure your communications are clear on financing study and employability.


    Remember Nursaw Associates can help you put together your proposals and understand the current position within your organisation.  Do contact us if we can help.



    For the latest research check out the following: 




    Dr Paul Wakeling



    Sutton Trust


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