Should master’s degrees be centrally funded?

(c) scot2342


Even with the astronomical rises in tuition fees for undergraduates in England (and soon all from England across the UK), an undergraduate degree at university in the UK is free at the point of access. Yes, £9,000 a year over a three/four-year degree is a large loan to repay over the course of one’s life (discounting maintenance loans). But according to David Willetts, the universities minister, a graduate on £21,500 pa will only pay “£4 per month”. This does not excuse the fee rise, but it makes it slightly more digestible.

A postgraduate master’s course, should you wish to embark on one, will you set you back quite a bit more depending on your course of study. Lucy Tobin, writing for The Guardian, examined the relative pros and cons of a master’s degree with a few case studies. It’s an interesting read, and relevant for this article:

“…the Higher Education Statistics Agency reports that 7,044 postgraduates reached master’s level in business and management studies in 2006. Lydia Katz, 20, from Brussels, in Belgium, will be one of those this year. The Oxford finalist will begin a master’s in management at the London School of Economics in September. ‘In continental Europe, it is more common to continue studying after university,’ says Katz, who is currently finishing her degree in politics, philosophy and economics. ‘All my friends at home in Brussels will be doing master’s courses, so it was expected that I would, too.”

“‘My career ambition is to work as a manager in a multinational company. I hope the LSE course will be much more practical than my undergraduate degree. I also applied to two universities in Paris. But I chose to study in London because I like the English education system – it’s much more proactive on the student’s part. It’s a very expensive course – fees are £17,500 a year – and living costs are high, too. But I think the master’s will be worthwhile because my starting salary will be higher with a postgraduate degree.'”

With fees for such degrees ranging from the thousands to the tens of thousands, students baulk at the additional thought of paying accommodation costs. Indeed, many stay at home to avoid incurring extra thousands to their total bill – all for a single year of study. Standard accommodation at the University of Westminster, for example, will cost £101.50 per week for a single room. Over twelve months of master’s degree study- you do the math.

Fees aside, the chief advantage to master’s study is employability. The in-depth study shows employers that you’re willing to invest time and money into your career – quite a commitment. Nowadays, science students wishing to go into research can skip an MSc and dive straight from their undergraduate degree into a fully-funded (and paid, if you’re willing to teach undergraduates) PhD by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Arts and humanities students aren’t so lucky.

The chief argument against funding master’s degrees centrally is the belief that a bachelor’s degree is perfectly adequate to get a relatively well-paying job. It is unfortunate for students who really just want to learn more about a subject – they have to pay extra for the privilege. In addition, there is the argument that central funding would add an even heavier strain on the taxpayer, when only a bachelor’s degree is deemed necessary.

I personally take the side against the idea of such central funding, but until then I would support the expansion of undergraduate master’s courses. As a mathematics student, my education is a bit useless for my aspirations of a mixed career in diplomacy and journalism, and I wouldn’t like the extra burden of a year’s more loan money for an MMath when my BSc will do. But that’s just me, and it shows how complex the problem of higher education is – there is no simple answer.


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