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Widening access to postgraduate study

How can we help ensure that talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds can access postgraduate education and the professions?

During the past eighteen months, Warwick has been working in collaboration with five other universities (Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York) to create a pilot providing postgraduate scholarships.

Professor Christina Hughes, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning), said:

The need to support student progression does not stop at entry into undergraduate level. All the research highlights how access to postgraduate study is differentiated according to socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity and disability. Our participation in this programme led to 71 scholarships being offered across all faculties at Warwick and piloted new programmes designed to provide alternative routes to postgraduate study. In all, the programme created a considerable knowledge resource to aid universities in supporting broader participation in postgraduate study."

The universities involved have outlined their experiences and recommendations in a report, Widening Access to Postgraduate Study and Fair Access to the Professions.

Professor Sir Nigel Thrift speaking at the launchThe report was launched at an event at the House of Commons on 26 October 2015, where our Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Nigel Thrift, outlined the findings of the scholarship scheme.

Professor Thrift commented:

Our project has reminded us that postgraduate taught students are not a homogenous group and highlighted the need for a genuinely holistic approach to supporting widening participation postgraduate taught students, where funding is only part of the response. Our project does not - indeed cannot - provide a ready-made answer to the question of equitable progression to postgraduate study. However, it does, we believe, give us a firm evidence base on which further work to support progression to postgraduate study can be developed."

Why was this pilot needed?

One of the unintended consequences of the raising of undergraduate tuition fees has been the impact on progression to postgraduate study. Evidence suggests undergraduate numbers have not been adversely affected, but increasingly a postgraduate qualification is now seen by many employers as crucial to getting into certain professions for example, journalism, accountancy, and academia. This comes at a time when the availability of commercial graduate loans has reduced and undergraduate debt has increased. As a result, the door to certain professions is being closed for those without the financial backing to pursue postgraduate study.

Read the full report:
Widening Access to Postgraduate Study and Fair Access to the Professions

A group of scholarship recipients from the six participating Russell Group universities with MP Paul BlomfieldA group of scholarship recipients from the six participating Russell Group universities with MP Paul Blomfield

Student experiences

Scott Walker
Being from a low-income family I never thought that a Masters would have been possible, and without the scholarship scheme it wouldn’t have been. The scheme meant that I was able to do my Masters whilst maintaining a part-time job. The scheme meant that I received full tuition fees whilst also acquiring a grant."

Scott is now working at Jaguar Land Rover.

Kathryn Thompson
As an undergraduate studying Classics at Warwick I relied heavily on financial support in the form of grants, loans and bursaries. I was thrilled to achieve a high first at the end of my three years but my family circumstances meant that I wasn’t in a position to fund myself through postgraduate study. The Warwick Taught Masters Scholarship came along at just the right time as it enabled me to undertake the fundamental Masters training required for me to embark upon my dream of doctoral study."

Kathryn is now doing a PhD in Classics at Warwick.