1 Oxford University Student Union response to the Consultation on Support for Postgraduate Study OUSU is the representative body for the University of Oxford s 22,000 diverse students, existing to represent, support and enhance the lives of Oxford students.
2 HIGHER EDUCATION Consultation on Support for Postgraduate Study RESPONSE FORM MARCH 2015
3 Consultation on Support for Postgraduate Study The Department may, in accordance with the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, make available, on public request, individual responses. The closing date for this consultation is 29/05/2015. Your name: JACK J. MATTHEWS, VICE PRESIDENT GRADUATES Your organisation (if applicable): OXFORD UNIVERSITY STUDENT UNION Address: 2 WORCESTER STREET, OXFORD, OX1 2BX Please return completed forms to: Or Postgraduate Consultation Abbey 1, 5 th Floor 1 Victoria Street London SW1H 0ET Please tick a box from the list of options below that best describes your role or organisation: Role or Organisation Business representative organisation Charity or Social Enterprise HE Policy Organisation Individual Research Council Small Business (10 to 49 people) Student Large Business (Over 250 staff) X Student Representative Body Legal Representative Local Government Medium Business Micro Business (up to 9 staff) University University Staff Other Please Describe:
4 Policy Objective Q1. Do you believe that access to finance is a significant barrier to progression into postgraduate taught Master s study? Please provide evidence to support your response: Each year the University of Oxford surveys those who were made an offer for Graduate study, but declined to take up the position. For the admissions cycle, 50.6% of respondents cited Did not have funding as a factor in declining. This is compared to the second most common factor, Preferred offer elsewhere which was cited by 32.2% of respondents. It is worthy of note that of those who took up an offer elsewhere, 72.6% cited that funding was an important or very important factor in this decision. The University of Oxford has a robust mechanism for identifying the most able candidates for graduate study. However, despite advances by the University to increase the provision of graduate scholarships, funding still remains a prime reason why those selected as being the most academically able, are incapable of taking up their offer. Q2. Are there other barriers, other than access to finance, which in your view prohibits progression into postgraduate taught Master s study? The ability to access postgraduate education in a mode that is suitable to the learner remains a key issue. Most noticeably this comes in the form of part-time provision, and the commensurate support that goes with that mode of study. Allied with this is the ability of individuals to switch from full-time to part-time study, especially important for those who may require parental leave during the course of their studies. Loan amount Q3. Do you believe the availability of up to a 10,000 income contingent loan will increase an individual s likelihood to pursue postgraduate taught Master s study? If to Q3, please provide reasons/ evidence to support your response: For the reasons outlined in Q1, it is clear the access to finance is a major barrier to access to postgraduate education. While not going as far as is necessary (see Q4), loans of up to 10,000, income contingent, will certainly increase the likelihood of
5 those who are made offers being able to start, and complete, their postgraduate taught Masters. Q4. Do you think 10,000 is the right amount to support individuals in undertaking study, while ensuring they have a stake in deciding whether studying a Master s degree is the right path for them? If no, what do you think the maximum loan amount should be and why? To answer this question, it is worth considering the costs associated with studying at the University of Oxford. For full-time, taught postgraduate courses, the modal course cost for 2015/16 is 6,355, with a maximum of 44,725 for the MBA. On top of this is the mandatory College Fee ( 2,848). In a joint exercise between the University and OUSU, work has been done to calculate the cost of living for an Oxford student, the lower range of which is 8,556 for 9 months, with an upper range of 12,641. Therefore assuming a student on a 9-month course, with a modal course fee, and living costs on the lower range, the total cost of study would be 17,759. Many Master s degrees however are 12 months in duration, and course and living costs will be higher for many, making the estimate of total cost of study a lower range estimate. In addition, it is worth highlight the following points from Annex 5 of the Consultation Document: I. Further analysis also finds that a larger proportion of younger students are rejected for bank finance as a result of having poor credit history compared with older students II. Young students are the most likely to be in need of a loan or unable to find another source of finance compared with other students III. Given younger students are less likely to rely on their own savings (suggesting they do not have sufficient savings for fees) and are more reliant on help from their families, the evidence suggests that those students from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular may have less access to personal finances to fund their tuition fees IV. In contrast to sources of funding for tuition fees, young students are more reliant on own savings for living costs. However, they are still significantly more reliant on help from family compared with older students V. In general, young students (and students aged 56 and over) are less likely to received and form of support [from an employer] compared with other students If the maximum loan is to be 10,000, then the vast majority of those studying for a Taught Master s at Oxford will have a funding gap of at least 7,700. As mentioned previously, OUSU has supported the University and College s efforts to increase provision of graduate scholarships, but even after much progress, it is unforeseeable
6 in the short to medium term that Oxford, with the largest endowment in the country, would be able to fill this funding gap for all those it wishes to offer a place to. With younger students more likely to be rejected for bank finance, less likely to have personal savings to fund further study, and less likely to have support from an employer, the ways to fill this funding gap are greatly restricted. The Consultation s own figures show that younger students and the most likely to rely on family for funding their study (55% of those 25 years old or younger). It is therefore concerning that these loans will only be of significant use to those younger students who can fill the funding gap most likely though family sources. This excludes those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Such a system that excludes those from poorer backgrounds would fail to deliver on the requirements outlined in the Alan Milburn Report (2012) for a postgraduate funding framework that enabled social mobility. While 10,000 income contingent loans will certainly enable many more people with limited other sources of funding to access postgraduate taught education, more work needs to be done to ensure sufficient financial support is available to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. For these Loans to truly open up postgraduate education to all those of sufficient academic merit, regardless of background, increases in the maximum loan amount will have to be made, or supplementary loans/grants made available on a means tested basis. If no changes are made, those who are the most academically able, but from the poorest backgrounds, will remain locked out from a Master s degree for financial reasons. Q5. If yes to Q4, what proportion of 10,000 do you think an individual would seek to borrow, and why? Less than 50% More than 50% Q.6 Do you believe the availability of a 10,000 income contingent loan will have an impact or influence on the following: Propensity to study a postgraduate taught Master s course over Other Postgraduate courses. Propensity to study full-time over part-time? Propensity to study part-time over full-time? Rise in the level of postgraduate taught Master s course fees? With regard to the mode of study, the repercussions are hard to envisage, as there will be drivers in different directions. Those with access to limited funding sources who otherwise would have been forced to pursue Part-Time education, may now be able to study full-time with the support of the income contingent loan. However those who have no other avenues for funding, are in work, and would have
7 otherwise been unable to afford to study, may be able to afford Part-Time study with the assistance of the Loan. ting that these Loans are highly likely to spur an increase in demand for postgraduate taught courses, and that demand is often a matter institutions take into consideration when setting fees, it is clear that significant potential exists for course fee inflation, following the introduction of postgraduate Loans. There is an obvious need for fee levels to be closely monitored across the introduction of this system, so that increased regulation can be swiftly brought in should fee levels become unsustainable. Contribution to costs Q7. Do you think the proposed loan should be paid directly to the borrower, and the borrower should decide the balance they allocate between fees and maintenance? Students should be responsible for how the loan is divided between fees and maintenance. Additional sources of income for the student, where available, will be variable in whether they fund fees, maintenance, or both. A loan paid directly to the student allows them to easily deploy the fund where they are needed most, depending on the conditions attached to other supplementary funding sources. Q8. If to Q7, do you think a proportion of the loan should be limited to a fee loan which is paid directly to the course provider? Q9. If to Q8, how much of the 10,000 loan should be limited for the purpose of a fee loan? Less than 50% More than 50%
8 Q10. What other sources of finance might an individual need or rely upon, as well as the proposed loan, to meet all the costs of pursing postgraduate taught Master s study? University or College Scholarships Savings Family Employers Earnings from employment However, please see Question 4 for reasons why these may not be available to those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and therefore why a 10,000 loan will be insufficient. Individual eligibility Q11. Which groups of individuals, in your view, experience finance as the main barrier to pursuing postgraduate taught Master s study? How best might they be defined and/or identified? Please see Question 4. With so many younger students relying on family to fund fees and/or maintenance (see Consultation Appendix 5) it is concerning how many students from families of insufficient means may be discouraged from postgraduate study, regardless of their academic ability. The level of support proposed in the Consultation is unlikely to be sufficient to allow these people to pursue postgraduate education. These individuals may be able to be identified through similar mechanisms by which undergraduate loans/grants are administered. With regard to the original eligibility criteria set out in the Consultation, the view of OUSU is that it should not be restricted on the basis of age. The approach of only making the loans available to those under the age of 30 is counterintuitive. Indeed, if the loan is to remain restricted to 10,000, those over the age of 30 are most able to supplement this and fill the funding gap to reach the full cost of study see Consultation Appendix 5. We wish to see a postgraduate education system that attracts the most able candidates, whatever their age. Within the Oxford University Student Union, we operate the Student Advice Service a confidential advice, information and advocacy service. So far, this academic year, the Student Advice Service has seen 169 graduate students. 100% of the enquiries from Part-Time students were regarding student finance issues, whereas 25% of enquiries from Full-Time students were regarding student finance. It should be ensured that any Loan scheme is as accessible to Part-Time students as possible. Q12. Are there other ways of identifying individuals with financial need for the purposes of pursuing study at this level?
9 See Question 11. Institutional eligibility Q13. Do you think that institutional eligibility should be restricted to HEFCE fundable institutions and Alternative Providers who have obtained Degree Awarding Powers? INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK Q14. If to Q13, which other institutions and providers should be additionally included for eligibility? INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK Q15. What quality and assurance arrangements should be put in place for institutions and providers who are not HEFCE fundable institutions, or Alternative Providers without Degree Awarding Powers, to ensure standards and quality? INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK Fee inflation Q16. Do you believe the availability of up to a 10,000 loan would result in excessive course fee inflation? See Question 6 Q17. If to Q16, do you agree that the Government should look at mechanisms to safeguard against rapid and excessive course fee inflation, and how should it be assessed? See Question 6. As a minimum, fees need to be closely monitored and reviewed across the implementation of the new loan scheme. Should fee inflation transpire to be an issue, some form of regulation may be necessary.
10 Q18. If to Q17, what safeguards should be applied against rapid and excessive fee inflation, and how should this be monitored? Course eligibility Q19. Do you agree with the description of postgraduate taught Master s courses provided? If to Q19, please give reasons/evidence for your response: Q20. Are there any other postgraduate courses, particularly professional qualifications, that you feel would be excluded from the description of eligible courses which you think are particularly important to the economy? If to Q20, please provide reasons/evidence to support your response: INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK Course intensity Q21. Are there instances where a further reduced study period - of less than 50% intensity - should be considered for pro-rata loan eligibility? When lack of flexibility of a course can be a significant barrier to accessing postgraduate education, and when undergraduate study support is provided at intensities as low as 25%, the Consultation s 50% minimum intensity requirement seems unnecessarily restrictive. See also response to Question 11 regarding importance of Part-Time loan provision. Loan distribution Q22. Do you agree that the loan should be paid to the borrower in instalments across the academic year?
11 If the Loan is to be paid to the student for them to divide between maintenance and fees (Question 7), then it seems more appropriate for the Loan to be paid, in full, at the beginning of the course to allow for the payment of fees, and necessary upfront accommodation costs. Q23. Do you think confirmation of attendance is an appropriate trigger to release the loan to the borrower?, however this may cause issues with upfront costs, such as accommodation. Repayment terms Q24: Do you think this is the right balance of repayment terms to achieve an affordable scheme for borrowers whilst also meeting the principle of borrowers to repay in full? It is essential that if these loans are to be accessible and used by all academically able students, regardless of background, that the repayment terms be income contingent. Interest rates must also be low enough that when the loan is combined with undergraduate student loans, the joint loan interest accrual is smaller than the repayment amount those who have recently graduated will be paying. Q25. If to Q24, which repayment terms would you recommend be made more generous, and which less generous in order to offset this? Please provide reasons/evidence to support your recommendations: Other wider implication Q26. Are there other issues Government should be aware of, which would impact on the take-up of this proposed loan by those with any of the protected characteristics, and what steps might Government take to mitigate any negative impact? Please see response to Question 11 Q27: What other sources of support could be offered to learners who would not be eligible for the new postgraduate loan?
12 INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK Impact on employers and business a. Course eligibility Q28. Are there any other postgraduate courses, particularly professional qualifications, that you feel would be excluded from the definition of eligible courses which you think are particularly important to the economy? If, please list them and provide reasons/evidence to support your response: b. Contribution to costs Q29. Based on the contribution to costs principle, are there features of the proposed loan scheme that you feel could be changed or enhanced that would encourage you as an employer or business to meet and/or contribute to your employees undertaking a postgraduate taught Master s course? Q30. If to Q29, which of the following features would you change/enhance: Loan amount Contribution to costs Age eligibility Course eligibility Repayment terms Income contingent repayment Other Please describe Institutional eligibility Please provide reasons to support your response: c. Balance of benefits Q31. Do employers agree, that given the access to skills that employers tell Government they need, this new loan proposal offers advantages to not only individuals but also to employers?
13 Q32. Do employers think that making changes to payroll systems to deduct postgraduate loan repayments will cost their business? Q33. If yes to Q32, is the impact to the changes required likely to be in the following areas: Payroll and HR Staff time on the operating system Dealing with employee queries and preparing guidance Correcting errors and resulting from increased volumes and extra complexity Upgraded software Other things (please describe below) Please provide further details/ information to support your response: d. Repayments Q34. What new challenges, if any, do employers think administering this new loan scheme would present for them, and how might Government mitigate these? Please provide further details/ information to support your response:
14 Review of Support for Postgraduate Research Students Q1. How can we broaden and strengthen support for postgraduate research students and excellent postgraduate research? Please give specific examples and evidence where possible: While loan contributions to PGT courses will be a welcome, and usable addition to the funding options available to students, loans for PGR will likely be impractical as is explained more fully in this section, especially in Question 6. We believe that students, society, and the economy are strengthened by increased provision of postgraduate research degrees. Recognising the unsustainable nature of large PGR loan debts on top of UG and PGT debts, we believe that the best way to fund PGR courses is via non-repayable scholarships, covering all study costs. These scholarships may well be best administered through the Research Councils, however we would encourage as much freedom in their administration as possible. Research should be driven and directed by academics within our research institutions we believe funding should not be restricted to certain courses or areas of research. Q2. Is there unmet demand for postgraduate research skills and qualifications amongst employers and potential students? If so, please provide evidence: In an economy where increasing numbers of job applicants require postgraduate, often research, qualifications to be successful in securing employment, access to postgraduate research education is a key concern. Should more, suitable funding be made available for PGR course, we fully expect there to be no shortage of academically able applicants. Q3. How can we attract and retain top research talent in the UK? What is the impact of the availability and level of individual stipends, and other factors such as postdoctoral opportunities? Does this vary across subjects? Please provide evidence: Funding remains a prime concern for students seeking postgraduate education at the University of Oxford. Each year the University of Oxford surveys those who were made an offer for Graduate study, but declined to take up the position. For the admissions cycle, 50.6% of respondents cited Did not have funding as a factor in declining. This is compared to the second most common factor, Preferred offer elsewhere which was cited by 32.2% of respondents. It is worthy of note that of those who took up an offer elsewhere, 72.6% cited that funding was an important or very important factor in this decision. It is clear from these data that talent is being lost from the UK s top research University due to lack of funding.
15 Partnering to Support Postgraduate Research Students Q4. How could the Government further develop partnerships with industrial and charitable partners to leverage public sector funding to support postgraduate research? Please give specific examples and evidence where possible: We welcome the University of Oxford s continued work, alongside the Colleges, to increase the size of the graduate scholarships package. This is built upon endowments from philanthropic giving a sustainable and long term answer to the problems or attracting and retaining the brightest and best to our University. The Government should do all it can to incentivise charitable giving so that this vital work can continue and expand. Q5. How could the Government link with existing funding mechanisms and finance platforms and/or support new or innovative approaches? Please give specific examples: Please see response to Question 4. Income contingent loans to Support Postgraduate Research Students Q6. Would the availability of a 25,000 loan influence a student s decision to pursue postgraduate research study or the location of study? Please give your views on the loan amount and any other factors that may influence a student s decision. Please provide further details/ information to support your response: To answer this question, it is worth considering the costs associated with studying for a DPhil at the University of Oxford. For full-time DPhil courses, the modal (and lowest) course fee for 2015/16 is 4,052, with a maximum of 18,220. On top of this is the mandatory College Fee ( 2,848). In a joint exercise between the University and OUSU, work has been done to calculate the cost of living for an Oxford student, the lower range of which is 11,412 for 12 months, with an upper range of 16,860. Therefore assuming a student on a DPhil course, with a modal course fee, and living costs on the lower range, the annual cost to the student would be 18,312. As DPhils last at least 3 years, the cost would be 54,936 though many students actually take 4 years to finish their studies. To reiterate, this is a conservative estimate, and many students would have higher course and living costs than stated here, and would take 4 years to complete their studies.
16 It is clear that the proposed 25,000 leaves a substantial funding gap. The magnitude of this suggests that only those of significant personal or familial financial means will be able to bridge the funding gap and use the loan. While it could be suggested that the loan could be increased, the addition of this level of debt on top of probable undergraduate and Master s debts would not only deter many from study, but also mean that full repayment would be unlikely. These loans are unlikely to make postgraduate research qualifications open to more people. The amount is insubstantial in comparison to total costs of study, and increasing the loan to cover the full cost of study makes it of a magnitude unlikely to be repaid in full and off-putting to potential applicants. Q7. Should we prioritise specific subjects where the scientific and economic case is strongest, or instead provide broad support to all subjects, even if this means capping the total number of loans or offering them on less generous terms? If we prioritise certain subjects, how should we go about it? Please give specific examples and evidence where possible:, postgraduate study support should be open and available to all academically able applicants, regardless of the course of study. The Consultation papers make clear that those with postgraduate research qualifications make considerable returns to the Exchequer. With doctoral students from all study areas progressing to careers that benefit society, and the economy, we see no reason to restrict support. Q8. How can we ensure loans complement existing funding mechanisms, maintaining a focus on the most excellent research and on linking with external funding? Please provide further details/ information to support your response: It is hard to foresee how the proposed loans will actually be of use to students wishing to study for a postgraduate research degree see response to Question 6. Q9. How can we minimise complexity for Higher Education Institutions and for employers? Please provide further details/ information to support your response: INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK Q10. Is there anything else we should take into consideration? Please provide evidence:
17 Do you have any other comments that might aid the consultation process as a whole? Please use this space for any general comments that you may have, comments on the layout of this consultation would also be welcomed. Thank you for taking the time to let us have your views. We do not intend to acknowledge receipt of individual responses unless you tick the box below. Please acknowledge this reply At BIS we carry out our research on many different topics and consultations. As your views are valuable to us, would it be okay if we were to contact you again from time to time either for research or to send through consultation documents?
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