Academics warn about a gap in postgraduate funding

**While the fees for such courses increased by 11 percent this year as a result of cuts in teaching grants, funding from research councils has been dropped.**

The last cohort of students taking stand-alone taught Master’s courses to be funded were those who graduated in 2011, with no further funding planned.

A spokesperson for Research Councils UK (RCUK), a strategic partnership between seven UK research councils, said that the fall in support was partially due to a decision to concentrate funds on longer courses in order to achieve the best “outputs”.

The decision to withdraw from supporting stand-alone Master’s was taken as a consequence of the spending review in 2010. However, the spokesperson said that the councils had only ever supported about five percent of those taking such courses anyway.

Students who intend to undertake a research Master’s will be faced with the prospect of financial support dropping by 47 percent, from 786 to 413 by the 2013-14 academic year.

The number of PhD students who will be funded is also set to drop from 5,793 to 4,649 by next year; a drop of almost 20 percent.

Warwick is one of the UK’s top ten research intensive universities and almost 45% of the students here are undertaking postgraduate study.

Prof. Thomas Docherty, from the University of Warwick, sits on the steering committee of a newly formed campaign group, the Council for the Defence of British Universities.

He said: “There is a massive problem already emerging here and we are very concerned by it.

“Postgraduate funding has been totally neglected. It is almost as if the government thinks the problem will go away, will sort itself out.”

Ben Jones, third-year MORSE student considering a taught Master’s, commented: “You really have to weigh up if the extra year will be worth the extra debt. Gaining funding seemed pretty hopeless anyway and this doesn’t help.”

However the situation might not be as difficult for prospective students as it appears. Tom Took, who has completed an MA in Philosophy at Warwick and intends to go on to do a PhD in Philosophy, said: “They do still fund taught Master’s.”

Tom explained: “It’s massively misleading to say that they don’t fund ‘stand-alone taught Master’s degrees’. They do: I got full funding for a taught Master’s just last academic year (2011-12).

“The difference, since 2011, is that the [Research Councils] don’t fund people that are taking the course without the intention to go on to do further study in the subject.

“Despite that fact, it is still stand-alone funding, in that you don’t get PhD funding with it, and if you wish to continue on to a PhD, you still have to reapply unlike most research Master’s degrees.”

This is evident in the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Student Funding Guide for 2012-13, which says: “Separate Master’s and Doctoral schemes remain an integral part of the AHRC’s postgraduate strategy.”

However, this is under the stipulation that “any student taking a Master’s degree, and funded by the AHRC, should be doing so with the intention to continue to a Doctoral degree. Any Master’s course supported by the AHRC should be formulated to naturally lead on to Doctoral study.”

Asked about the cut in funding from UK research councils, Peter Dunn, University of Warwick’s communications officer, said: “Warwick’s long term strategy had been to increase the number of postgraduate research students and that strategy is very much well on target.”

The University of Warwick has taken its own steps towards helping its postgraduate students, [investing an additional £700,000 in its Chancellor’s Scholarships]( for postgraduate research students.

With regards to this extra investment Prof. Jacqueline Labbe, Chair of the University of Warwick’s Board of Graduate Studies, said:

“We recognise that the best students deserve the best level of support we can devise, and I am very pleased that from 2013 students to whom we award University funding will be supported for 3.5 years rather than the sector standard of 3 years.”

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