Over 1,700 people applied for the 350 places on offer, the flagship initiative of a joint project by six, research-intensive Russell Group Universities to widen access to taught postgraduate study and the professions.
The University of Sheffield-led consortium has secured a £3m HEFCE grant to look at innovative ways of removing barriers to, and improving the take-up of, taught postgraduate programmes.
With match funding, it is the largest of 20 HEFCE supported projects aimed at stemming a significant fall in home PG student numbers – a growing crisis with significant implications for the UK skills base and wider economy.
Scholarship offers were made by the Universities of Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Warwick and York targeted at under-represented groups, including those from low income backgrounds, mature students and those with caring responsibilities.
At Sheffield over 300 applications were submitted for the 90 scholarships on offer. Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sheffield, said: “It is very telling that The University of Sheffield is massively over-subscribed for what is the biggest Postgraduate Taught scholarship offer the country has seen. The message of this is clear.
“When you remove the financial barriers, there is an overwhelming demand to continue study which offers students the opportunities to enter professions which require postgraduate qualifications – to be teachers, architects, chartered engineers, lawyers and doctors.
“If these career opportunities were barred to students from less affluent backgrounds due to cost, it would be a tragedy for our country and a waste of the talent and insight we need into society as a whole.
“While families may genuinely want to support their children through University, continuing study after a first degree is a step too far for many. Postgraduate education is the new frontier of widening participation.
“We also need to respond to the needs of companies and the economy. The labour market is demanding higher skilled workers and so for individuals, employers and to ensure the UK can compete in the wider global economy, it is vital that we understand and then remove the barriers to the postgraduate system for our own home students.”
Scholarship offers have been made by all major faculties with a focus on higher-level skills and the professions.
Alongside the scholarship offer, the Consortium is working closely with employers and the financial sector to develop, deliver and evaluate new financing models to attract and support disadvantaged students into postgraduate education.
The 15-month project will also look at new academic products to encourage and enable graduates to enter postgraduate taught study.
Dr Tony Strike, Director of Strategy, Planning and Change at the University of Sheffield and Consortium Chair added: “This project is a large-scale collaboration between six major postgraduate providers.
“Together we have the capability and capacity to implement and evaluate interventions that have the potential to impact significantly on postgraduate participation across a wide range of disciplines.
“Our prime aim is to create a sustainable and equitable future for postgraduate study.”