Postgrad education – any glimmer of hope for the future?

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Since the publication of the Browne Report in 2010 (which recommended much greater freedom in setting tuition fees for undergraduates which was ‘in effect a carte blanche to charge more), UK universities have been spending a lot of time over the past couple of years soul searching and hand wringing about the future of higher education. This has been to little avail: the rather botched compromise resulting from Browne saw the first ‘£9k undergraduates’ enrol this September.

Amidst the concerns about undergraduates (and in particular UK/EU undergraduates – those coming from outside the EU have been subject to much higher fees since Thatcher’s reforms in the early 1980s), postgraduates have been largely overlooked. A few voices have been fighting the postgrad corner, arguing that support for those progressing beyond undergraduate education is important to help further train and refine those who need specialist knowledge and skills.

The postgrad voice is now finally being taken up on a wider stage with the publication of the government-commissioned Higher Education Commission’s report on postgraduate education. The Commission’s findings affirm the importance of postgraduate education and also suggest that there should be government subsidy (in the form of loans) for higher level study.

Despite these very worthy recommendations, it remains to be seen whether they are taken up, or if – a la Browne – the findings are selectively implemented and ‘progress’ is questionable. The press has not shown major interest in the Commission’s findings and the public view (if indeed it can be measured and represented as ‘public’ based on comments made on web-based news stories, which I am not convinced about) is not hugely supportive. 

Central Asia followers may be amused to see that the biggest splash that the report has made in the press has been a comparison between the UK and Kazakh postgraduate systems. The comparison suggests that progression in the UK is as “poor” as it is in Kazakhstan – see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/9631067/Is-our-postgraduate-system-really-as-bad-as-Kazakhstans.html for example.

I wonder whether any of these reporters are aware of the government’s commitment to investment in Kazakh higher education and the importance placed on education in society in Kazakhstan? Taking this into account, I would expect the UK to fare rather worse in any comparison. 

Whilst I try to take a positive view, I am finding it hard to see much positive for the future of postgrad education in the UK. But Kazakhstan, on the other hand… 

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