Positively Post Grad
If you’re still working hard for your first degree, probably the last thing you want to contemplate is postgraduate study. However, in unsure financial times, continuing your academic life can actually serve many purposes. For a start, doing some forms of postgrad study will mean deferring your entry into the market place – hopefully to a time when the economy is in a better state and recruitment is healthier. In some sectors (i.e. law, teaching and academia) further study is actually a pre-requisite for entry, while in other professional sectors studying for professional qualifications while working is the recognised path to career advancement.
The diversity of the market for postgraduate education is huge, and UK Higher Education Institutions have shown great success at meeting these varied demands, offering courses that range from pure academic pursuits to professional accreditations. Over 270,000 students enrolled for a postgraduate course in 2007-08, with the sector seeing growth of 27 per cent in masters’ degrees and nine per cent in doctoral degrees. However, 50 per cent of masters’ students and 44 per cent of doctoral students are international students.
This recognises the strength of the UK’s research base but also demonstrates the need to encourage more UK based students to undertake PhDs because doctoral students are the pool from which universities draw their lecturers and researchers, and the numbers taking PhDs in some subjects are not enough to replenish the academic profession. As a result, UK institutions have recruited more of their academics from abroad, raising concerns about relying too much on overseas staff as well as overseas students.
Talking about these and the other findings of a new report, Postgraduate Education in the United Kingdom, carried out by the British Library and
the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), Bahram Bekhradnia, Director of HEPI, says: ‘I think it is worrying that so few UK undergraduates are doing doctorates rather than research postgrad. On the one hand you could take the view that the academic world and universities are a global activity and so we want to get the best we can from anywhere in the world, so it doesn’t really matter if lecturers come from the UK or from overseas. But actually, having so few UK postgrads doing doctorates does make us vulnerable to shortages of homegrown lecturers in the future. It is unfortunate that academic study seems less attractive to UK grads than research postgrad study, especially when there are jobs available after you’ve done a PhD.’
The report shows in 2007-8, there were 501,135 full-time and part-time postgraduate students registered in UK higher education institutions. Of these, 278,2728, or 56 per cent, were first-year postgraduates. The largest group in postgraduate education is undertaking one year, full-time taught masters programmes, representing 37 per cent of all starters in 2007-8. Amongst all students enrolled in postgraduate courses the largest group (20 per cent) is studying for a qualification in business and administrative studies, usually at masters level, followed by education (19 per cent). Meanwhile, the majority of research degree students (58 per cent) are studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.
‘It’s encouraging and slightly surprising finding that the STEM subjects have held up so well,’ comments Dr Bekhradnia, ‘and this is probably because of the number of research council studentships in those subjects. Overall, you would have thought the numbers doing first degrees and then masters degrees would impact on the number of UK people doing PhDs but it certainly hasn’t in the last few years. Perhaps if there were more funded positions available that would change. I know one of the problems with economics doctorates is that the jobs available to good economics graduates are already so attractive it is very difficult to persuade them to stay on for further study.’ The increase in masters’ fees appears not to have acted as a deterrent to students (especially those from abroad), with the number of masters’ students continuing to rise.
However, traditionally one of the reasons for doing a postgraduate degree was that it ensured a higher salary. Now the report shows salaries for those with first degrees are closer to those with postgraduate degrees. Much more importantly, having a postgraduate degree will help you in the job market. Postgraduates are far more likely to enter the professions: three and a half years after graduation, 94 per cent of postgraduates are employed in the top professions, compared to 78 per cent of undergraduates. So, in the long term, postgraduate study will definitely boost your career.