Election: Postgraduate Issues

With a General Election upon us, we asked the main contesting parties for their views on the following topics of relevance to postgraduates:

1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.

Although more obviously an undergraduate issue, heavy debt accrued as an undergraduate can dissuade many capable students from proceeding to postgraduate studies and research.

2) Overseas student visa fees.

A student visa costs more that taking out British citizenship, while many of our international competitors charge only nominal fees for student visas. Also, many students have to pay the same again if their study period exceeds the time allowed by their visa, even if only briefly.

3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.

The more properly-trained researchers we have, the better for us all.

We defined "main parties" as those already represented at Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff, Stormont or Strasbourg which are contesting the
General Election. Information was gathered from a combination of websites, telephone calls to press officers or official spokespersons and by e-mail. Some were precise, others pursued their point; some were chatty, others sounded like they were addressing public meetings. Some e-mails went on for ever; others failed to materialise. We made valiant attempts to fill as many gaps as possible but sadly this was not altogether possible and was not, ultimately, our responsibility. We leave it to our readers to draw their own conclusions on the policies declared and the detail or lack thereof.

The issue is complicated by the fact that education is a devolved matter: the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Office (whilst the Legislative Assembly is suspended) are in charge of higher education in their respective jurisdictions. Some parties do not cover the whole of the United Kingdom, whilst others have sister parties in different nations. Where possible we have given the views of each party where they differ.

Obviously, we could have asked a lot more questions, especially on the nature of the formal relationship between the researcher and the Institution, raising issues like contractual obligations over funding and supervision and also the fiscal status and entitlements of PhD graduates but we wanted answers, so we kept it fairly general. The more tricky questions can wait for campaigning after the election. As it was, the most specific question, on student visas, drew the greatest number of blanks. Most party representatives we spoke to seemed unaware of the issue and there was a lot of quick- thinking down the phone. One party even replied with an instant policy lifted almost word for word from the background material in our standard
e-mail!

We are not telling you who to vote for. We do not even suggest that there is an obvious choice. What we are saying is that there are some interesting ideas worthy of discussion, some of them from unexpected sources. And overseas students, Northern Ireland awaits you with open arms!

---Labour Party---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment
Status quo: graduate endowment of 2k at 15k threshold in Scotland; favour top-up fees elsewhere.
2) Overseas student visa fees
Status quo; Lab/LibDem coalition supports Scottish Fresh Talent initiative granting two-year working visas to non-EU graduates.
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
Continue towards 30% increase in average PhD stipends.

---Conservative Party---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Abolish top-up fees, introduce grants as part of new National Scholarship scheme whereby funding would follow the student and not be awarded to the institution.
2) Overseas student visa fees.
No policy on charges but as of their first week in office would ban upgrading from holiday or student visa to working visa.
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
186bn endowment programme but no specific details on postgraduate funding.

---Liberal Democrats---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Fees and bursaries will continue to be set by a case by case basis. However, are committed to abolishing all tuition and top-up fees so that students will not be saddled with a huge debt when they complete their undergraduate degree.
2) Overseas student visa fees.
Are against increases in visa charges for students; Lab/LibDem coalition supports Scottish Fresh Talent initiative granting two-year working visas to non-EU graduates.
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
Increase university funding; are committed to increasing stipends for PhD students by 30%.

---UK Independence Party---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
"Cancel top-up fees, give maintenance grants as necessary, and scrap the student loan scheme."
2) Overseas student visa fees.
No official policy suggest parity with what international competitors charge for open-ended visas that last till graduation.
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
No official policy suggest "analyse and invest accordingly."

---The Green Party---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Opposed favour progressive taxation to fund lifelong learning.
2) Overseas student visa fees.
Opposed. In Scotland, have called on the Executive to pay charges for overseas students at Scottish higher education institutes (HEIs).
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
Through progressive taxation as needed; more investment in applied scientific research places, especially in sustainable & ecological
areas. In Scotland, call for the number of research grants to be restored to 1999 levels.

---Veritas---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Opposed would form a commission to investigate how best to fund higher education (most likely a voucher-based national bursary system).
2) Overseas student visa fees.
No plans to abolish them, but concerned by the points we raised.
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
A voucher system would allow the researcher to research or study where convenient and make HEIs "look after their customers".

---Scottish National Party---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Abolish the Scottish graduate endowment, replace loans with grants.
2) Overseas student visa fees.
"Scrap them".
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
General commitment to provide resources without giving figures.

---Scottish Socialist Party---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Opposed would introduce living grants, financed by taxing big business.
2) Overseas student visa fees.
Open borders policy would put no restriction on study or work.
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
No specific policy but a general pledge to free provision of higher and further education.

---Plaid Cymru---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Opposed higher education to be funded by general taxation.
2) Overseas student visa fees.
Opposed renewal charges for PhD researchers "extremely unfair".
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
More research council funding for Wales; formal contracts and statements of terms for postgraduates who teach.

---Ulster Unionist Party---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Opposed. Would consider graduate endowment for the higher-salaried (no threshold given).
2) Overseas student visa fees.
Opposed as a threat to a valuable funding source.
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
Committed to greater research & development, including more research places, in Northern Ireland.

---Democratic Unionist Party---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Raise the repayment threshold to 15,000.
2) Overseas student visa fees.
Opposed want to see the "enriching influence" of overseas students extended.
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
Encourage Government to do all they can to allow people to take the opportunity of postgraduate education.

---Social Democratic and Labour Party---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Opposed seek wider funding for access, especially for the disadvantaged.
2) Overseas student visa fees.
Want to see the government make studying in Northern Ireland more attractive to international students; freeze cost of student visas; remove renewal visa charges for overseas PhD students.
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
Committed to increasing funding for Research & Development; encourage links with business for research and development; establish a new All-Ireland Research Alliance; maximise applications for the European Research Area and the European Research Framework Programme.

---Alliance Party---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Opposed should be paid by general taxation. Would encourage greater sourcing from alumni (but no graduate endowment).
2) Overseas student visa fees.
Want government to encourage overseas students to study in Northern Ireland but not at the expense of the local population (a great issue locally).
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
Higher investment from public and private sectors.

---Sinn Fein---
1) Top-up fees/graduate endowment.
Would establish "adequate grant-aid and support mechanisms" (website).
2) Overseas student visa fees.
"Will send an e-mail."
3) Investment in infrastructure and funding for more research places.
Ditto

Make sure you have your say on 5 May!

Jim Ewing,
General Secretary

For more details where available the party websites are listed below:

---Labour---
Main: http://www.labour.org.uk/
Scottish: http://www.scottishlabour.org.uk/
Welsh: http://www.welshlabour.org.uk/

---Conservative Party---
Main: http://www.conservatives.com/
Scottish: http://www.scottishtories.org.uk/
Welsh: http://www.conservatives.com/wales/
Northern Irish: http://www.conservativesni.com/

---Liberal Democrats---
Main: http://www.libdems.org.uk/
Scottish: http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/
Welsh: http://www.welshlibdems.org.uk/

---UK Independence Party---

Main: http://www.ukip.org/
Scottish: http://www.ukipscotland.org/
Welsh: http://www.ukipwales.org/

---The Green Party---
England & Wales: http://www.greenparty.org.uk/
Scotland: http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/
Northern Irish: http://www.greens-in.org/ ]

---Veritas---
Main: http://www.veritasparty.com/

---Scottish National Party---
Main: http://www.snp.org/

---Scottish Socialist Party---
Main: http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/

---Plaid Cymru---
Main: http://www.plaidcymru.org/

---Ulster Unionist Party---
Main: http://www.uup.org/

---Democratic Unionist Party---
Main: http://www.dup.org.uk/

---Social Democratic and Labour Party---
Main: http://www.sdlp.ie/

---Alliance Party---
Main: http://www.allianceparty.org/

---Sinn Fein---
Main: http://sinnfein.ie/