The consortium of Russell Group universities – led by Sheffield – have together offered over 400 places to home students in a bid to widen access to taught postgraduate study and the professions.
The offer was massively oversubscribed with five eligible applicants for every place at the Universities of Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Warwick and York with over 1,700 people left disappointed.
Professor Paul White, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sheffield, said: “This offer has flagged up huge demand for postgraduate study and now we hope that the Government and employers will respond with action and funding.
“If these career opportunities are barred to students from less affluent backgrounds due to cost, it would be a tragedy for our country and a waste of the talent we need in society as a whole. We had the demand to award another £6m.”
The consortium secured a £3m grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to look at innovative ways of removing barriers to, and improving the take-up of postgraduate programmes.
With match funding, it is the largest of 20 HEFCE-supported projects aimed at stemming a significant fall in home postgraduate student numbers – a growing crisis with significant implications for the UK skills base and wider economy.
The University of Sheffield alone has awarded 95 scholarships to enable disadvantaged students to take up postgraduate study in the city.
Over 300 eligible people, who met at least one of the criteria, applied for the scholarships of between £5,540 to £13,850. Successful candidates included those from low income and care backgrounds, people with disabilities, those with caring responsibilities, mature students and under-presented groups such as women in engineering.
Dr Tony Strike, Director of Strategy, Planning and Change at the University of Sheffield and Consortium Chair said: “It is very telling that we are massively over-subscribed for what is the biggest Postgraduate taught scholarship offer the country has seen. The message of this is clear. Home students are not turning away from postgraduate study because they lack the talent or the ambition.
“When you remove the financial barriers, there is an overwhelming demand to continue study to enter the professions – to be teachers, architects, chartered engineers, lawyers and doctors.”
The Consortium is working closely with employers and the financial sector to develop, deliver and evaluate new financial support packages to attract and support disadvantaged students into postgraduate education.
The 15-month project will also look at innovations in curriculum design and offers and targeted information, advice and guidance.