Masters market hots up

Reproduced with kind permission from Times Higher Education Supplement.

Masters market hots up

Letitia Hughes
Published: 01September2006

The LSE is charging over 8K for postgraduate courses - nearly three timesmore than other universities, a survey finds. Letitia Hughes reports

A market in postgraduate fees for British students is emerging, with some universities charging thousands of pounds more than others, The Times Higher can reveal.

The London School of Economics charges 8,454 a year for many of its taught masters, nearly three times the 3,168 a year charged for many courses at Imperial College London, Nottingham and Sheffield universities. Warwick University charges just under 5,000 a year for its masters courses.

While institutions have charged different fees for overseas students and for specialist courses such as business studies in the past, home students have usually been charged similar fees for one-year postgraduate courses.

But a Times Higher survey of the 20 universities with the highest numbers of masters courses suggests increasing differences in fees across the sector.

Postgraduate fees at Imperial, University College London, Sheffield, Oxford, Manchester, Cardiff, Nottingham and Leeds universities are just over Pounds 3,000 a year. But at Edinburgh, Birmingham, Westminster and Middlesex universities, they are more than 4,000 a year. Warwick and City universities charge about 5,000 a year.

Prices listed by universities usually excluded business courses and were often stated as the "modal" or most frequent charge for courses.

A spokesperson for the LSE said: "LSE offers a premium product to its students in terms of teaching and learning, research, academic contact and facilities. As such, it charges a competitive rate for graduate courses."

A Warwick spokesperson said the fees were a "straightforward reflection of the university's reputation - the price reflects the fact that we are a strong institute."

Mary Watts, pro vice-chancellor for teaching and learning at City, said:

"It reflects the nature of our postgraduate courses. The price reflects the cost of running high-quality programmes in that area, but is also then reflected in the roles that people can take afterwards."

But Simon Felton, general secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee, said: "We accept, as a body, the right of institutions to set fees according to the cost of providing the course, but we object to universities increasing the fees based on reputation alone.

"While studying at an institution that looks good on a CV can open doors later in life, it is difficult to do a cost-benefit analysis and work out whether the doors it opens are worth the extra fees."

Wes Streeting, vice-president of the National Union of Students, said: "We are greatly concerned by the increasing variation. There is a risk that it could lead to students choosing courses based on cost rather than on suitability." He added: "It would be a travesty if postgraduate study is restricted to wealthy students."