Following much thought and consultation, The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) made the difficult decision to pass policy in opposition to the higher education bill unless it is amended to remove all plans for tuition fees. This does, however, mean opposing two parts of the bill, which NPC wholeheartedly supports.
As the bill may be largely seen in Parliament as a vote on the new proposals for tuition fees, the parts on the formation of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the removal of Visitorial Jurisdiction on student complaints are also included - two things NPC has been campaigning to see for years.
Despite this good news, unless the bill is amended to remove plans on tuition fees NPC will not support the bill as a whole, which will be voted on. Dr Tim Brown, General Secretary of the NPC says: "While we vociferously oppose the proposals on tuition fees in light of the burden of debt that will hinder continuation to postgraduate education; at the same time it is a terrible compromise that this will delay many opportunities for postgraduates in the Arts and Humanities and the thought that even one more research student will have to endure the medieval Visitor system is too bad for words. It is wholly unreasonable that these three very different parts were placed into one single bill." One area that is seldom addressed is how it will be possible to take out a Career Development Loan up to £8,000 with commercial rate interest on top of tens of thousands of pounds in undergraduate debt. NPC believes this will cause a rapid decline in the supply of UK postgraduates.
The NPC has the following main difficulties with the higher education bill and the preceding higher education white paper are as follows:
- The NPC is wholly opposed to any concentration of research funding. This will have severe implications on student choice, and could concentrate the vast majority of postgraduates into the South East of England. This may severely effect our regional economies and opportunity for many postgraduates in such regions where access to funding will not be the only issue. Access to part time postgraduate study or research will also be extremely limited.
- Postgraduates in the white paper are often considered as research students, while taught postgraduates have no mention. Greater support and training for research students may be warmly welcomed, but progression to research via a taught postgraduate course still needs to be addressed.
- The NPC is concerned that, whilst many undergraduates may head to Scotland and Wales in future, in pursuit of cheaper education, many academics and researchers will be attracted in the opposite direction towards England where there will be more research and also funding. This could have a severely adverse effect on postgraduate education in Scotland and Wales.
- Options for the huge community of part time postgraduates will reduce significantly unless proposals are added to increase funding for part time intensive institutions, who will not benefit from the proposals on tuition fees. NPC therefore asks the government to consider access to part time study.
Dr Brown asks the question "Whether continued education is viable for UK graduates is questionable. This will have an effect on the economy, society and the demands of employers. Undergraduate tuition fees will not fund the real costs of higher education so could institutions begin to find their only real market is international postgraduate students to sustain their infrastructure?"
Notes for press officers:
- The National Postgraduate Committee is a charity to advance, in the public interest, postgraduate education in the UK, run by postgraduates for postgraduates and supported by affiliated student representative bodies throughout the country.
- The NPC's decision to oppose the Higher Education Bill, if unamended, was taken at its Ordinary General Meeting held in the University of Leeds on 28th February 2004. The decision was unanimous.
For More information please contact the General Secretary