This report by Joanne Lindley and Stephen Machin revisits the debate about why social mobility levels are relatively low in Great Britain and the United States of America compared to other countries. It focuses on three main areas within this debate: the changing role of educational inequalities; the expectation of ever higher levels of education as revealed in increasing numbers of workers holding postgraduate degrees; and potential differences by gender.
- It is vital that our brightest graduates are not priced out of postgraduate study. Therefore, a targeted state-backed loan scheme should be introduced to support postgraduate students from low and middle income backgrounds.
- With postgraduate qualifications increasingly essential in many professional careers, Government, professional associations and universities should develop a coherent offer, including bursaries, to enable good graduates from low and middle income backgrounds to continue their studies without incurring significant extra debts.
- The impact of the new £9000 fee arrangements for undergraduates on the social mix in postgraduate education should be kept under careful review, so that appropriate action can be taken where it can be demonstrated that it is further reducing social mobility.
- The Office for Fair Access should look at universities’ postgraduate recruitment patterns as part of their annual assessment of access agreements, and consider what steps are being taken to ensure a broad social intake.
- HEFCE should help improve our understanding of postgraduate study and financing by collecting data on fees, costs and the socio-economic background of students.
- Action should be taken by the professions – building on successful programmes already operating in fields such as the Law – to ensure that they fully represent the talents of society as a whole, and not just a narrow elite.