by Mark Bennett
, posted on 9 Apr '19

5 Key Issues Facing Postgraduate Recruitment in 2019

Postgraduate study is changing, and that means postgraduate recruitment is changing too.

New funding is making Masters and PhD study accessible to more students. As a result, the (still) new sector regulator is taking a growing interest in these students and their experiences. Meanwhile, international students continue to be heavily represented at postgraduate level (and vital to the viability of some programmes) – it’s just that no one’s entirely sure what the words ‘international student’ will mean in 12 months.

1. Less lonely, more loanly – predicting future growth in PhD recruitment

Right now, the first ‘cohort’ of UK students to access the new £25,000 doctoral student loans are probably somewhere between finishing their literature review and getting ready for their MPhil upgrade exam.

We don’t yet know exactly how big a difference this new funding is going to make to student numbers, but we probably shouldn’t be underestimating it (I have good reason to believe that Student Loans Company forecasts aren’t).

After all, the number of people starting a taught Masters in the UK increased by 14% after loans for those courses were introduced in 2016. The figure rose by another 6% in 2017/18.

There’s every reason to expect growth in PGR recruitment and no reason why that should be restricted particular parts of the sector.

2. Postgraduate IAG - the OfS takes an interest

With more students studying Masters and PhDs it stands to reason that the regulator will be paying added attention to these students. And they are.

Back in December 2018 the Office for Students announced ‘a new strategic approach’ to student information advice and guidance, with specific reference made to ‘advice for postgraduates’ including that ‘delivered by providers’.

As head of a team that works very hard to improve postgraduate IAG, I welcome this. And I’m really interested to see how things pan out for more specialist Masters and PhD resources.

3. Changing funding – what to do when postgraduate loans aren’t enough

I could talk in depth about what universities need to know about the new postgraduate loans (but that’s another event). What I can say is that they aren’t enough.

The average domestic fee for a taught MA in the current year is around £7,392. The amount a student can borrow with a Masters loan in 2019-20 will be £10,906. A £25,700 doctoral loan, meanwhile, leaves about £10,000 to live on for three years, once fees are taken care of.

Loans will increase interest in postgraduate study, but many of those students will need universities to help them make up the difference.

4. We are international – but what about our students?

International students from outside the EU make up 28% of postgraduate enrollments in 2018/19. Including EU students raises this proportion to a (pretty staggering) 36%.

The problem is that no one is quite sure whether EU students will be included in this figure after current fee and funding guarantees expire. There are also questions concerning the Government’s attitude to international recruitment overall, though the recently published international education strategy offers some encouragement.

5. Let’s (not) make a podcast – student engagement trends

I listened to quite a lot of podcasts in 2009, when regularly walking three miles to my job making pizza as a part-time PhD student. Times have moved on a bit since then. I’m no longer a PhD student (though I do still make the occasional pizza) and apparently everyone else is listening to podcasts too.

So, should you be making one? A podcast, I mean, not pizza (you should definitely make pizza). As with most trends the answer depends on your situation, but if you aren't, it's becoming increasingly likely that someone else is.