Key findings of the NPC National Survey of Postgraduate Funding and Priorities

Earlier this year, the National Postgraduate Committee commissioned the University of Warwick Students Union to carry out a national survey of UK postgraduate students to explore the following questions:

  • What factors do students consider in deciding to pursue postgraduate study?
  • How are postgraduate students funded through their courses, and what are the implications of these funding mechanisms?
  • How many postgraduate students undertake paid work, what sort of work do they do and why, and what impact does this have on their study (if any)?
  • What are the future career plans of postgraduate students, and what factors do they take into account in making these plans? Does debt accrued as a student have any effect on these plans?

The research was carried out by a team of researchers at University of Warwick Students Union. The research consisted of a postal questionnaire survey in May/June 2002. 982 responses were received from current UK domiciled postgraduate students at 17 different institutions across the UK.

The project was made possible thanks to the sponsorship of CSU (publishers of Prospects).


  • The majority of postgraduates have a higher income than expenditure. Of those respondents who gave full details of their income and expenditure (776 respondents), 51% had a greater income than expenditure, 16% broke even, and 33% had a greater expenditure than income.
  • Despite this, 51% of respondents described their funding as not sufficient, and only 8% said their funding was more than sufficient. 15% had tried to get access or hardship funds from their institution.
  • 64% of respondents paid their own tuition fees. Fees paid ranged from 250 to 20,000. The average fee for part-time courses was 1,550 and for full-time courses was 3,780. The main sources of funding for those who had fees paid for them were government awards, including Research Councils (39%), Higher Education Institutions (24%), and employers (22%).
  • The average income of respondents was 15,273. The most common sources of income were paid employment (65% of respondents, average 13,638), postgraduate awards from Research Councils etc. (34%, 7,529), overdraft (30%, 1,319), savings (20%, 3,624), parents (16%, 3,003), career development loans (9%, 4,436) and institutional scholarships (8%, 3,996).
  • The average expenditure of respondents was 12,958. The main items of expenditure, in addition to tuition fees, were rent/mortgage (average 3,531), food/household goods (2,218), household bills (1,354), entertainment/ socialising (1,289), travel (1,155), clothes (584) and course materials (400). 13% of respondents had childcare or child-related costs, with an average of 3,317.
  • Students whose expenditure is greater than their income, or who describe their funding as not sufficient, are more likely to be young (20-25), full-time students on taught postgraduate courses in the arts, humanities or social sciences.
  • 47% of respondents owned their own home, 29% lived in private rented accommodation, 12% with their parents, and 9% in halls of residence or other accommodation provided by their institution.
  • Respondents had an average of 6,442 debt prior to commencing their current course, have 7,775 debt now, and anticipate 8,513 debt on graduation.
  • 71% of respondents were undertaking paid work alongside their studies. 29% were in full-time professional employment, 22% were employed doing teaching or other work at their institution, and 18% were doing casual work elsewhere. 54% of respondents undertook this work for essential income, and 33% had career development as a main motivation.

Reasons for pursuing postgraduate study

  • 72% of respondents said they had decided to pursue postgraduate study to improve their career prospects. 68% wanted to continue studying their subject, and 30% said personal development was a key factor.
  • 75% of respondents said they had to overcome financial obstacles in order to pursue postgraduate study.
  • The course/area of study is exactly what I wanted was rated as clearly the most important factor involved in choosing a particular course of study. Other important priorities were the location of the institution and the reputation of the institution. Factors such as living accommodation offered, and social and recreational facilities provided by the institution, were seen as less important.
  • 36% of respondents said that financial considerations had a strong influence on where they studied, and 39% said that financial considerations had a strong influence on their choice of full- or part-time study.

Future plans

  • 86% felt that the money spent on their current studies will be a good investment in their future.
  • 53% had expected higher earnings as a result of their course, before they started the course. 48% still expected their course to lead to higher earnings. The average salary respondents expected to earn on completion of their postgraduate studies was 22,000.
  • 41% of respondents expected to work outside of higher education, but in an area related to their subject. 22% expected to go into research or teaching in a UK Higher Education Institution. 8% expected to go into academic research or teaching elsewhere, 8% into further postgraduate study, and only 6% expected to go into work not related to their subject area.
  • 21% of respondents had changed their career plans since commencing their current studies.

For more information contact:

Jamie Darwen
Education Research & Development Adviser
University of Warwick Students Union
Coventry CV4 7AL