According to figures from the last two years, 17 per cent of graduates in 2013 intended to pursue a postgraduate qualification, but only half of them actually did so. Here we look at some of the data that might make the Government’s plans to offer greater financial support for postgraduate taught students look a lot like welcome news.

Can postgraduate student finance turn graduate intentions into reality?

For two years now HEFCE has run the ‘Intentions After Graduation Survey’ (IAGS). This captures information about the intentions of final-year first degree students at UK institutions.

By comparing this with the reported activities of students six months after their graduation – collated in the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey – we can consider the gap between student intentions and what they actually did.  (All the data and more detailed breakdowns are available in our interactive charts.)

What do graduates intend to do?

The 2014 IAGS data shows that overall 14 per cent of students at English institutions intended to study at postgraduate level.

The data also show some noticeable findings for different student characteristics:

IAGS-2014

  • More black and minority ethnic (BME) students than white UK domiciled students planned to study at this level six months after graduation (14 per cent compared with 12 per cent)
  • Slightly more young than mature students had the same intention (14 per cent compared with 13 per cent)
  • Students from the lowest and highest participation areas were equally intent on postgraduate study (12 per cent in both the highest and lowest quintiles)
  • More non-disabled than disabled students were intending to make the same move (14 per cent compared with 12 per cent).

What did graduates do?

We can compare intention and reality by looking at data on intentions six months after graduation from 2013 IAGS and comparing it with the information those same students provided to the DLHE survey six months after they completed their first degree. This reveals some clear differences.

The following chart compares students who said in 2013 that they intended to continue their studies within six months of graduation with the numbers of these students who did so during this time (either by studying or studying and working).

In 2013, 17 per cent intended to continue their studies. Only 56 per cent of these students did as they intended within six months.

IAGS-DLHE-COMPARE

This also shows that for certain characteristics the difference between intention and reality is more marked.

Whereas more black and minority ethnic students planned for postgraduate study in 2013 than white UK domiciled students, a higher percentage of the white students managed to do so (55 per cent compared with 45 per cent).

In the same way, roughly equal numbers of students from the highest and lowest participation areas said in 2013 that they intended to study, but a higher percentage of the students from the highest participation areas did so (64 per cent compared with 51 per cent).

The data show similar disparities over age and disability status. This may suggest that some groups of students are more likely to experience barriers into further study than others.

What is putting graduates off?

The survey asked students who were likely to enter postgraduate study what would affect their decision.  For 65 per cent course fees were a factor. Among students who said they were unlikely to study at postgraduate level in the future, 61 per cent said that course fees were one of the factors putting them off.

So can postgraduate student finance help turn intentions into reality? This, of course, remains to be seen.

But these figures show clearly that, for many, intention and reality do not match up, and that this gap is more acute for students with certain characteristics. They also show that finance is one of the key deterrents.

Findings from the £25 million scheme of pilot projects that we have funded already show that financial contributions help to address frustrated demand. So the recent announcements  –  to allocate £50 million in 2015-16 to institutions so they can offer match-funded bursaries and the introduction of income-contingent loans from 2016-17 – is a cause for good cheer.

Future work

It’s also worth noting as HEFCE takes forward the IAGS into 2015, that the students answering the 2015 survey will include the first group of students paying £9,000 a year.

This means that it will be possible to see if the aspiration of these students differs from earlier final-year cohorts.