The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Postgraduate loans – a better system?

The topic of whether or not we should have a public form of loans for postgraduate education has been floated, not for the first time,…

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The topic of whether or not we should have a public form of loans for postgraduate education has been floated, not for the first time, at the Liberal Democrat conference just last week. However, would their introduction be beneficial for the whole of the nation, or just for an already relatively privileged few?

In the UK, postgraduate fees are a subject of much consternation. With the controversial increase of undergraduate fees in 2010 came a second problem, universities taking the opportunity to sneakily raise postgraduate fees also.

Whilst the government has a cap on undergraduate fees, there are no such caps on postgraduate courses, thus allowing universities to charge as much as they feel they can for them. At the University of Oxford, an MPhil in International Relations will set you back £10300 per annum for two years, where as at the University of Manchester an MA in the same field would be £5000 for the one year. Whilst this does show a clear differentiation in at least demand for a course, and perhaps also quality, and so enable the consumer to be able to factor this in to their decision to study further, it does make the business of pursuing higher education yet more problematic for those not from wealthy families and also turns universities into businesses.

Further subsidies of higher education is an issue that concerns not just students, potential students and universities- it concerns every person in the country. For the people who work from the age of 16, who have no interest in or perhaps access to pursuing higher education themselves, is it legitimate for them to be asked to subsidise what is a very pleasant lifestyle for a group who are already relatively privileged in our society, generally speaking.

On the other hand, having a well educated population does lead to numerous knock on benefits for the rest of society, people who train in business have the ability to generate wealth which leads to a stronger economy, more jobs and a more stable society. People who train as medical health professionals in one form or another benefit all of society through improving people’s quality of life. Even those pesky humanities students, who seem to be a frequent target for derision are beneficial for society, the ability to think critically and analyse with a wider knowledge of the world may well make for more active participants in our democracy and a better democracy.

Of course, there is also much more private funding and scholarships already in existence for postgraduate courses, quite unlike undergraduate education. So, in terms of accessibility for the brightest and best is this perhaps a bit of a non-issue, does the status quo provide us with a situation where the most able are free to pursue education further, funded by a wealthier group of people reasonably qualified themselves also.

A person’s motives for pursuing study further might well not be entirely in the interests of society. Whilst the intended purpose of postgraduate education, indeed all university education and all learning in its purest sense, at its core surely must be simply to educate, and to enjoy education and learning purely for their own sake, it is fairly clear that in today’s world this not what most often motivates most people.

Most people are generally quite motivated by improving their CV’s, and pursue university qualifications to gain a competitive edge when applying for jobs. When at university, students realise quite how blessed this lifestyle can be and so, when offered with the opportunity to continue it for another year or so frequently jump at the chance.

If we were to have a situation of publically funded postgraduate loans on demand, would we have the situation which many people perceive we have with undergraduate education now: that it has become so necessary to have a bachelors degree in something, anything, that over half of sixth form leavers pursue further or higher education, that degrees become almost worthless on the jobs market.

Or, if we were to have a situation where all education was free would the motivation of universities change to simply getting the most talented people to pursue as much education as possible, and not the status quo where the incentive is to get as many students as possible, paying as much money as possible so as to maximise profits, with the pursuit of knowledge and all that is holy in education forgotten about.