UK IT profession could suffer as postgraduate course fees face huge rises

Postgraduate studies in sectors such as IT are essential if the UK is to remain at the forefront of global research, but increases in fees will reduce the number of people studying them, in particular those from less well-off backgrounds.

There has been a major storm since the government introduced rules that meant universities could charge anything up to £9,000 for undergraduate courses. These fees are paid upfront by the government and repaid by the graduates when they are earning.

The knock-on effect on postgraduate studies, which are paid for by students or their employers, is more worrying.

Anthony Finkelstein, dean of engineering sciences at University College London (UCL), said fees in masters degrees are set to rise substantially. He said degrees that currently cost between £3,000 and £5,000 per year might rise to £10,000.

"The full consequences of the undergraduate fees decision and the HE whitepaper are yet to become clear. The broad direction of travel for institutions such as UCL is more or less apparent. It is appropriate that now some attention should focus on postgraduate taught provision, which forms a large part of our portfolio and that of other research-intensive universities," Finkelstein recently blogged.

Finkelstein, who is a professor of software systems engineering, said that although the full impact of the undergraduate fee rise is as yet unclear, current fees for masters courses, for example, will increase. "Obviously, the situation in which a full-year postgraduate course, with a lengthy dissertation requiring close supervision, would be priced below that of an undergraduate programme, of shorter duration and lesser intensity, is unsustainable. Thus it will be necessary for universities to raise the fees for most postgraduate taught masters (note: some professionally oriented courses already have high fees) to somewhere above the £9,000 payable by incoming undergraduates," he said.

He said the university might have to lessen the blow to avoid potential students staying away: "At UCL we may choose to taper the fee increases to test the market and to subsidise some specific courses. Our capacity for continuing subsidies will, however, necessarily be restricted, undergraduate students will expect the experience they are paying for and financially such subsidies are a zero sum game."

This story was first published byComputer Weekly

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