New loans system needed to stop post-graduate education becoming the preserve of the rich and overseas students, says National Union of Students


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The Independent Online

A tough new loans system is necessary to stop post-graduate education becoming solely the preserve of rich and overseas students, the National Union of Students warned today.

It advocates the introduction of tightly controlled loans to allow students from poorer backgrounds access to post-graduate courses for “socially exclusive” professions like law, journalism and accountancy.

Only those entitled to full maintenance grants as undergraduates should be eligible to apply and “strong references would be required” to give evidence of talent, the report says.

However, it adds the rate of repayment would be “very high, given that the scheme would cover high-achieving future professionals.”

It says - while mature graduates should be welcomed - those seeking to change jobs after a number of years would be barred.

The proposal is one of three strands put forward by the NUS to try and combat the current situation whereby access “depends not on ability but on ability to pay upfront - a system that is indefensible on a social justice level”.

It is one of three proposals put forward by the NUS - which admits it does not have a final solution to the problem. The others include a general scheme for a modest number of students undertaking more general masters’ degrees - where loans should be restricted to £6,000 and repayable once the student is earning £15,000 a year rather than the £21,000 a year boundary for repaying undergraduate loans.

It acknowledges that there is a danger that the supply of loans could push up fees - as there are no restrictions on the maximum that can be charged for post-graduate study.  As a result, the loans would have to be tightly regulated.

The NUS document admits that any loans scheme will have to be as cost neutral as possible because of the current economic conditions.

It follows a report last month by the Higher Education Commission warning that leading employers were being forced to hire more foreign staff or even consider quitting Britain altogether because of a growing crisis in postgraduate education. 

The UK, it revealed, is one of only three countries - along with Andorra and Kazakhstand - where less than 10 per cent of students go on to postggraduate studies.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said it had asked the spending watchdog the Higher Education Council for England to conduct a review of participation in postgraduate education.