Endowments could help postgraduate students

Conor Ryan argues in a new Centreforum report that university endowments can make a contribution to postgraduate funding.

Sutton Trust research has highlighted the growing importance of postgraduate degrees in today’s labour market. Stephen Machin and Joanne Lindley have shown that 11% of 26-60 year-olds in the workforce now holds a postgraduate qualification, up from 4% in 1996.[1]

They also showed that somebody with a Master’s can on average expect to earn over £200,000 more over a 40 year working life than someone only holding a Bachelor’s degree.[2] The Sutton Trust report highlighted how the recent growth in UK postgraduates, dominated by international students, poses a threat to social mobility.

This makes it all the more important that postgraduate courses are affordable to the brightest graduates, regardless of financial circumstances. Universities and government need to think imaginatively about how to fund them. Without action to enable bright students from all backgrounds to access postgraduate qualifications based on their ability rather than their ability to pay, this could become yet another barrier for those from low and middle income homes.

The Trust supports targeted state-backed loans for postgraduates. But Government is concerned about affordability, given the growing cost of the current student loan scheme. One way to keep costs lower would be develop income-related bursaries funded by universities through their alumni alongside means-tested loans for postgraduates.

Funding today

Tim Leunig’s earlier research for Centreforum has shown that while there is some funding available through university bursaries, research councils and other sources, fewer than 4% of students on taught master’s programmes receive sufficient funding to cover their fees in full.[3] Most universities offer some partial bursaries, but these are often a fraction of the costs of fees and living costs, which can be £18-£20,000 a year, depending on the course.[4] This is an expensive proposition for graduates with debts already set to exceed £40,000 from their undergraduate studies.

Endowments

In the United States, many universities, including the Ivy Leagues, fund undergraduates from low and middle income homes fully through their endowment funds. Many also use their endowments to provide targeted support for postgraduates (as well as to develop new buildings and facilities, often their primary purpose in the UK.)

With a state regulated system of undergraduate fees and loans in the UK, and substantial mandated access funds linked to the new fees regime, there is a strong case for focusing a growing endowment pot on postgraduate studies and research. For this to happen, UK universities need to grow their endowments. Only Oxford and Cambridge currently have endowment funds comparable in size to the top 20 US universities, with the next largest, Edinburgh, significantly smaller at £248m.[5]

The 2004 Thomas report led the Labour Government to introduce a match-funding scheme designed to stimulate greater fundraising by English universities from alumni, and the development of larger endowment funds.[6] That scheme, which ran from 2008-11, had some success: annual fundraising by UK universities rose from £513 million to £694 million.[7]

But the potential is much greater. While US Ivy Leagues have always had large endowments, much American alumni fundraising is relatively new. Many state-funded universities have only developed their funds in the last 50 years: for example, the University of Florida increased its annual donations from $2m in 1976 to produce an endowment fund now worth $1.3 billion.[8]

Only 1.2% of UK graduates donate to their universities regularly, compared with 9% of US alumni. A Higher Education Funding Council for England report in 2012 proposed a target of 5% for the UK within the next 10 years, with some universities achieving double digit rates, to put the UK onto the US track.[9]

Explicitly linking some of those funds to support for postgraduates could make giving more attractive to some donors. Some universities already do this. Sheffield has alumni fund scholarships, funded by donations from 1500 alumni each year, worth £2000 each, and targeted at bright students who might not otherwise be able to study there.[10] However, such scholarships remain small scale: in 2013, they plan to provide them to 15 students, but only provided 6 in 2012.[11] Others with larger endowments say they are relatively generous. Oxford, with £3.7 billion in university and college endowment funds, says that 62% of its research students and 17% of its students on taught Master’s courses receive full scholarships covering fees and living expenses.[12]  

Building endowments into wider postgraduate funding

Such endowments may not cover all postgraduate costs, but they could make a significant contribution, when coupled with targeted student loans for those of modest means. Sheffield targets its scholarships to those who received maintenance grants as undergraduates. A similar approach more widely applied to those able enough to study as postgraduates would help ensure such support was well targeted where it was needed most.

Government may not want to cover the full cost of postgraduate studies and living costs, given the prevailing climate. While wealthier UK and overseas graduates may be able to turn to family funds, those for whom a postgraduate degree is the final rung on the social mobility ladder are unlikely to have access to such resources. Such students should have access to more means-tested bursaries, funded by universities through alumni fundraising. For that to happen, universities will need to improve their fundraising capacity. Government should make it easier for them to do so: the tax system needs to be simpler for large donations, and more pump priming should be available to enhance fundraising capacity.

Postgraduate studies are the next social mobility frontier. It is now widely accepted that we need to do more through nursery education, schools and undergraduate access to enable bright young people from low and middle income homes to fulfil their potential. They must not encounter a brick wall when it comes to postgraduate study. A new partnership between alumni, universities and government could help ensure they don’t.

The Centreforum report Postgraduate Education: better funding and better access is edited by Tom Frostrick and Tom Gault and available at the Centreforum website.


[1] Stephen Machin and Joanne Lindley, ‘The Postgraduate Premium’, Sutton Trust 2012
[2] This is a gross figure, so it doesn’t allow for lost earnings, fee costs, extra taxes due or inflation, as some other analyses showing smaller premiums have done.
[3] Tim Leunig, ‘Mastering Postgraduate Funding’, Centreforum 2011
[4] Cambridge suggests these figures for most courses at http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/students/studentregistry/fees/costs/coursecost/costs2013v9.pdf . Taught course fees for home or European students at Sheffield and Newcastle universities are typically £5000-£6000 a year, with research fees starting at around £4000 a year, but often much higher depending on the course.
[5] http://www.suttontrust.com/research/university-fundraising-an-update, drawing on data from ‘Caritas Higher Education Yearbook’ data in the UK and the US ‘Chonicle of Higher Education’.
[6] ‘Increased Voluntary Giving to Higher Education’, DfES, 2004,
[8] ‘Increased Voluntary Giving’, p.25 and University of Florida website for latest data http://www.uff.ufl.edu/AboutUFF/Endowment.asp
[9] ‘Review of Philanthropy’
[11] Information supplied by University of Sheffield. The University also uses alumni funding to provide £3000 scholarships for undergraduates.

Hollywood prizes won on the playing-fields of Eton

Lee Elliot Major asks whether the acting profession could do more to develop talent from all backgrounds

Daniel Day-Lewis’s unprecedented third Oscar for Best Actor topped a successful night for Brits at the 85th Academy Awards this week. Day-Lewis famously holds dual British and Irish citizenship. But his background is that of the quintessential English actor.

Day-Lewis attended two prestigious private schools, Sevenoaks and Bedales, before going on to study at theatre school. These beginnings may contrast starkly with those of the self educated Abraham Lincoln, the American President he portrayed so brilliantly. But Day-Lewis is the latest in a long line of privately educated Englishmen and women to conquer Hollywood. Damian Lewis and Hugh Laurie, both old Etonians, are recent Golden globe winners, also acclaimed for their glittering success on the other side of the Pond.

And so they should be. But it is little wonder that many Americans are shocked to find that private schools make up only 7% of schools in England. Believe it or not, the vast majority of us are not educated in Hogwarts style boarding schools!

That so few achieve so much prompts an uncomfortable question this side of the Atlantic: are we doing enough in Britain to develop the artistic talents of children unlucky enough to come from the 93% of the population unable to access a privileged fee-paying education?

I live in North London which often feels like the very epicentre of the Luvvie classes. A casting director recently bemoaned to me that the talent pool of young aspiring thespians has become noticeably posher. She put this down to a range of factors: from increasing financial hardship to plain nepotism in the industry.

This trend could well be true. Recent research from the Sutton Trust into the country’s professional elites found that 44% of leading actors attended private schools. But this figure rose to 49% for those aged 45 and under.

The conversation reminded me of the report on the education backgrounds of news journalists I wrote for the Sutton Trust a few years back. This warned that there was an increasing bias in the media industry that favoured journalists from privileged backgrounds. There were a number of reasons for this: low pay and insecurity at junior levels; the high costs of living in London; the increasing costs of postgraduate courses; a bias towards those with family or personal connections within the industry amid a largely informal but highly competitive recruitment process; and finally the stronger skills and attributes attributed at an earlier age by those from private schools.

In a world of increasing inequalities – both in and outside school, the opportunity gap between the haves and have nots is ever widening.

As with journalism, the acting profession appears to be the perfect breeding ground for social immobility. Reforms under Labour to provide financial support for drama students were welcome. But perhaps something also needs to be done now to help nurture and support talent in state schools and young actors during their early career.

We may celebrate Hollywood prizes won on the playing-fields of Eton and other leading private schools. But it is high time the industry gave something back to those talents less fortunate. That is something President Lincoln would surely have appreciated.

Increasing social mobility in UK financial services

Lee Elliott Major on why the City needs to improve social mobility for economic as well as social reasons.

Thomas Wood is what the Sutton Trust is all about. A bright state school boy whose parents had never experienced higher education, he wasn’t sure whether study, let alone at a prestigious university, was for him. One week at the Sutton Trust summer school changed all that. Like many of the pupils with modest family backgrounds taking part, this week-long taster of university transformed Thomas’s life. He went on to gain a place at Nottingham University. During his degree he got an internship at a major bank. Now Thomas is an analyst at Citigroup, leading a successful career in the City.

Sadly, Thomas’s story of upward mobility remains the exception not the rule. Britain’s low social mobility, and the shocking waste of talent that goes with it, is arguably the biggest social challenge of our times. No more is this true than in the financial services sector. Research from the Sutton Trust into the country’s professional elites found that nearly six in ten (57%) of leading people in financial services attended private schools – which educate just 7% of pupils. Less than one in ten had attended a state comprehensive school. The remainder were educated at grammar or former direct grant schools.

It’s figures like these that motivate the work of the Sutton Trust. Founded and led by the successful philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl, the Trust’s aim is simple: to improve social mobility through education. The Trust is expanding its programmes, working with a range of partners, to provide life-transforming opportunities for talented pupils from low and middle income homes. The Trust’s summer schools are now the largest national access scheme for universities – benefiting nearly 2000 students this year at nine prestigious universities.

The Trust’s Pathways to Law programme, supported by the Legal Education Foundation and leading law firms, meanwhile supports state school pupils thinking about a career in law. It works with students over a number of years: from sixth form onwards, crucially enabling students to get work experience in law firms.

Could a similar programme be established to attract such students into the City? This is the question driving work by Boston Consulting Group for the Trust. Their study of the financial services sector has uncovered many insights. While there are laudable schemes across a diverse sector, support for non-privileged students can be fragmented, with little evaluation of its impact. In major banks, efforts to improve social mobility are not linked to their actual recruitment. The full business case for social mobility has not been made.

The Trust will be sharing its findings with leading organisations across the sector. But the challenge for us is already clear: how can the City work effectively to ensure that it benefits from more talented youngsters like Thomas Wood in the future?

This post first appeared on TheCityUK blog

Two countries united by a common access problem

James Turner considers access issues State-side

I had some respite from the London cold last week, when I was invited to speak at a British Council event at the University of California, Los Angeles, on widening access to university.

It was a fascinating session and underlined that – while our weather may be quite different – our two countries are facing similar issues when it comes to educational inequalities.

Even in setting the scene, the contextual factors at play are strikingly resonant – low levels of social mobility compared to many other developed nations; increasing inequality leading to a widening gap between rich and poor; and marked segregation in the school system, which makes the pre-college playing field anything but level.

The debates on either side of the Atlantic have been brought further into line because many in the US now see class and income, rather than ethnicity, as the defining obstacle to wider university access.  It is poverty more than colour that dictates chances of progression.

And both countries face the conundrum that, between them, they have the majority of the top-ranked universities in the world, but opportunities to study at these institutions are far from equitably spread, with those from better-off homes dominating admissions.

As in the UK, one of the major reasons underlying this trend in America is the lower levels of achievement of poorer students, allied to issues around aspirations and the quality of advice and support they receive.  Such is the complexity and breadth of the US higher education scene, that college counselling is critical – but, as here, it is often worst where it is needed most, in those communities with little experience of further study and no networks on which to draw.   This is exacerbated by the fact that school resources depend on parental income, with school districts funded through local taxation.

One difference though – at least for the time being – was that affordability and credit constraints have played a much larger part in the US picture.

While debt aversion has always been a factor in the debate, research from OFFA a couple of years ago showed that bursaries did not make a difference to English students’ decision making.  In other words, it wasn’t the cash that mattered, which is why the Trust has long-argued for more investment in outreach work in schools.  Whether this holds true under the new fees regime, of course, remains to be seen.

Participation rates in the US are higher than here, markedly so in fact, but the need for college graduates remains strong – in fact, the US government forecasts a demand, particularly in STEM areas, that is not being met by current supply. That should give heart to those in the UK pushing for more high quality higher education opportunities.

The final session of the conference looked at new digital platforms – including the possibility that College education could be made free, or at much lower cost, through the web.  Bandwith, content and hardware have converged, meaning that now could be the time that this type of provision really takes off.

If that happens, and the currency of the courses remains high, then the opportunity to share in the bounty of university could extend well beyond those who physically enter the lecture halls of our great universities.

So there were reasons for optimism – but it was an overall sobering prognosis, despite the LA sunshine. Such is the arms race of social mobility – and the understandable willingness of affluent parents to spend money to give their children a competitive advantage – that closing the university access gap seems like a very high mountain to climb indeed.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try —  and our work over the last fifteen years has shown that progress can be made. Every great journey starts in the foothills.

We need the best postgrads, not just the richest

Sir Peter Lampl on a worrying divide in postgraduate studies

Today’s new Sutton Trust report on the Postgraduate Premium highlights what is becoming a new frontier in the battle to improve social mobility.

In the 15 years since I established the Sutton Trust, we have started to make inroads into the state/private school balance at Oxford and Cambridge, and there have been improvements in the numbers of poorer students going to university relative to their richer peers.

But the new report shows that as more young people from less privileged homes are going to university – and we have yet to see the full impact of undergraduate fees particularly on the numbers from middle income homes – the goalposts have been shifting.

Where just 4% or 600,000 people in the workforce had postgraduate degrees 16 years ago, 11% or over 2 million have such qualifications today. Of course, there are real economic benefits in having a better educated workforce in today’s global economy. And last year’s report from the Higher Education Commission highlighted a growing demand for expertise in science, technology, engineering, maths and design.

Yet, at below 10%, the UK has one of the lowest progression rates to Master’s studies of any European country, a rate matching Andorra and Kazakhstan, according to the 2012 Bologna Process Implementation Report. [from HE Commission report, p31]

So we need more postgraduates. A better educated workforce should be good for Britain. Brainpower is what adds value in today’s economy. But it is essential that this should not come at the expense of widening inequalities of access to these professions.

Yet, the truth is that postgraduate study is becoming increasingly the preserve of the better off student, both from home and abroad.

There has been a big rise in postgraduate enrolments over the last decade. There are now over 650,000 postgraduate students at our universities. But HEFCE analysis has shown that the numbers on taught postgraduate courses more than doubled between 2002 and 2010, yet the increase among domestic students has been just 16%. Nearly half of all postgraduate students in the UK are now from overseas. Amongst research students, growth by international students has been twice as fast as among UK students.

Our universities have benefited from this extra international income, and it is a real concern that the visa clampdown may be reducing the numbers from overseas. But with the impact of £9000 fees, where graduates will have £40-£50,000 of debt after their first degree, the growth gap between British and overseas postgraduates seems likely to widen rather than narrow. We are in danger of losing out real potential.

Unless we address the issue, there is a real danger that we are squandering the talent of a generation, and losing the chance to stretch our brightest minds, so that they develop the innovations and ideas that will be essential to our economy in the future. At the same time, the higher wage premium – around £5500 a year more on average, or £200,000 across a working lifetime, compared to a £100,000 premium for a first degree  – enjoyed by postgraduate degree holders threatens further to widen income inequalities, reducing social mobility.

It is not easy for Government at a time of public spending restraint to consider improved funding for access to postgraduate study. Yet few investments have the potential to create such significant economic gain.

The Higher Education Commission last year urged ministers to extend the student loan scheme in a targeted way to postgraduate study. That would be a good start. But we need to have a much more concerted effort by government, universities and the professions to ensure that postgraduate study is about stretching the brightest minds and not simply dipping into the deepest pockets.

That’s why we need Government, professional associations and universities to develop a coherent offer for postgraduate study, including bursaries, to enable good graduates from low and middle income backgrounds to continue their studies without incurring significant extra debts.

We must keep the impact of the undergraduate fees on the social mix in postgraduate education 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.

In the end, it is vital that the best postgraduates, from home and overseas, study in Britain and contribute their ideas and innovations to help power our economy and improve our society. But to maximise that contribution, we need them to be able to do so on merit rather than money.

Too Young To Count?

James Turner examines the challenges of working with younger pupils

Last week, the OFFA chief Les Ebdon said that universities should look to work more with younger age groups.

We couldn’t agree more. The Sutton Trust has always believed at intervention at every phase of education, and we have a proud history of supporting initiatives reaching younger children – including Children’s University and Into University which start at age seven – and visits to universities for 11 year olds.

But like many pronouncements, it’s easier said than done.

First, is the question of how to engage teachers and schools with the university access agenda. It is often difficult enough to reach hard-pressed teachers in 11-16 schools, let alone in primary schools where higher education seems even more distant.  Tellingly, the Trust once funded university resource packs for primary schools in disadvantaged areas and, despite the quality of the material, it was hard to give them away, literally.

Then there is the question of what support is appropriate and when. What should seven year olds know about university which is relevant to their lives and likely to affect their aspirations? A general rule of thumb has been that pre-14 work should be about higher education generally; after that it can be more focussed on subjects and institutions. But there are no hard and fast rules and little evidence to help us out.

There is also a related issue around expertise – what makes an inspiring summer school for sixteen year olds is not the same as what makes a good primary school event.  And the best university lecturer might not be the person to appeal most to snotty-nosed juniors.

And then, perhaps most importantly, how do you know it works? It could be ten years plus before the children that benefit from a programme are in the UCAS cycle. Staff will have moved on, as will the political agenda, and so many other things will have intervened in those young lives.  What will we have learnt? Universities have already complained, with some justification, that only the government can track students through from age seven to seventeen to know if this work is making a difference.

More and more it looks like what is needed is a national structure for coordinating and funding this work – including some of the best of Aimhigher in a slimmed down, more focussed and evidence-based version.

As access work becomes more distant from the point of admission, it is bound to be less of a priority for universities, whose activities are principally funded by their own fee income and whose bottom line is, so to speak, bums on seats.

So a central body could also be charged with monitoring the impact of access work in a wider sense, particularly those initiatives which start young, and ensure there are no gaps in provision, both geographic and age-related.   It could also encourage disciplined innovation – allowing universities to experiment within a framework which allows for evaluation and scale-up of what works to other parts of the sector.  And there should be a defined pot of resources which are ear-marked for stimulating this particular type of access activity.

Starting early makes infinite sense; it is less clear that the current funding streams and infrastructures are able to deliver what is needed.

The Trouble With Boys

Conor Ryan reflects on David Willetts’ latest initiative to persuade more white working class boys to study at university.

Universities minister David Willetts was quick off the blocks for 2013 with his ideas on how to encourage white working class boys to go to university.

Young women are now a third more likely than young men to go to university, and there is a three-fold gap in applications between the poorest and richest neighbourhoods. In an article and interview for The Independent, Mr Willetts said that the education system “seems to make it harder for boys and men to face down the obstacles in the way of learning.

He told the paper that the Office for Fair Access  “look at a range of disadvantaged groups – social class and ethnicity, for instance – when it comes to access agreements, so I don’t see why they couldn’t look at white, working-class boys.”

The Minister has a point. Growing research in recent years suggests that white working class boys perform less well than many minority ethnic communities in their test and exam results.

Stephen Machin and Sandra McNally, in a 2006 LSE study, identified a stronger gender gap in secondary than primary schools. They argued that “the importance of coursework in the GCSE examination is likely to be a key explanation for the emergence of the gender gap at age 16.” They also identified differences in teaching and learning styles, and modes of assessment.

In 2007, Joseph Rowntree Foundation research, conducted by Robert Cassen and Geeta Kingdon, with some Sutton Trust input, found that nearly half of all students defined as low achievers were White British males. White British students on average – boys and girls – were more likely than other ethnic groups to persist in low achievement.

National College research by Denis Mongon and Christopher Chapman from Manchester University with the National Union of Teachers in 2008 suggested that some school leaders were better than others at narrowing this gap. They suggested a focus on clear strategies including relentless application of the highest standards in teaching and attention to data detail were key where the gap was lower.

They rightly pointed out that the social class gap is much wider than any gender gap, yet the data suggest that white working class boys are at an even greater disadvantage than white working class girls. This lower attainment can translate into lower ambitions, as reflected in applications to Sutton Trust summer schools – an important route for many low and middle income young people into leading universities.

Sutton Trust summer schools target the first child in families who might go to university. In 2012, there were 5,295 applicants from girls and 2,712 from boys, a ratio of 2:1. Even with a slightly higher acceptance rate among boys than girls, 62% of attendees were girls and just 38% boys.

Recent exam data bears out both the gender and socio-economic gaps. The 2012 Key Stage Test data suggests that 60% of White British boys eligible for free school meals reach level 2 in English and Maths, compared with 67% of White British FSM girls. This is larger than the three point gender gap among all other pupils. However, there is a six-point gender gap across all FSM pupils. The big difference is in English, where the gender gap among FSM pupils is 12 points.

On the main 5 GCSE indicator (including English and Maths), 2011  data (2012 data is due later this month). shows that 26% of White British FSM boys reached this standard compared with 32% of girls, a slightly smaller gender gap than exists for all other pupils, but one consistent with the gap at age eleven. On overall performance, only traveller boys perform worse now at GCSE. 33% of Black Caribbean boys, for example, now reach the 5 GCSE standard (though overall White British students perform ten points better than Black Caribbean students)

So what can we do? David Willetts is surely right to want universities to provide concerted help through summer schools over several years to lift aspirations. The Trust is planning to use this approach through programmes with Kent academies and working with University College London to support highly able pupils from Year 8 onwards over five years.

Of course, Michael Gove’s changes to the exam system and curriculum – more facts, more end-of-course testing – may reduce the overall gender gap, as girls are believed to perform better in coursework.

But, in addition to OFFA looking more closely at the data, a more concerted focus on white working class boys could also be productive. When the Labour government targeted Afro-Caribbean achievement in the late 1990s, after the Stephen Lawrence murder, it set clear goals and a strong focus that has particularly benefited FSM pupils.  The London Challenge will have been of particular benefit, with its strong focus on leadership, teaching and data.

Today, our sister charity, the Education Endowment Foundation is testing the most effective ways to lifting achievement for pupils in receipt of free school meals, and has the potential to make a real difference in narrowing attainment gaps. 70% of its target group is White British.

The experience of minority ethnic communities suggests cultural change is also important. Bangladeshi students used to perform relatively poorly in schools. Now they out-perform White British students overall, and 56% of Bangladeshi students eligible for free school meals – including 53% of FSM boys – reach the five GCSE benchmark. That change owes a lot to a community’s desire to learn, backed by parents and teachers working to meet that desire.

Harnessing a similar will to learn in white working class communities must be a part of the solution to the low attainment of too many of their boys – and girls.