No Fun Without Funding

BEN JONES suggests a solution to the problem of postgraduate funding, and argues that every student should be granted the opportunity.

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Funding a postgraduate degree is a notoriously difficult feat. When researching just how much a postgraduate degree would cost at Cambridge, I was overwhelmed by the baffling array of costs: a postgraduate study is hefty investment of thousands of pounds for home students and tens of thousands for international students.

Postgrad studies are an expensive business...

Postgrad studies are an expensive business…

This is an investment that many students, including myself, cannot afford. As an undergraduate, I have my fees covered by a loan. With all the advantages of graduating from Cambridge, I will almost certainly pay back this loan. I would also almost certainly repay a loan for postgraduate study, which frequently-cited research shows raises average earnings by tens of thousands over the course of a career.

Why should there not be a similar system of financial support in place for postgraduates?

Successive governments have failed to establish such a system because a postgraduate loan system is an investment which would only come to fruition years later, in time for the next government to enjoy the benefits. A look at the University of Cambridge’s accounts from recent years, however, reveals that they have millions of pounds of non-fixed assets alone to play with. There is a compelling financial and moral case for the university to invest some of these assets – only a tiny amount relative to the university’s total financial capacity – into what a university should be investing in: education.

Where you hiding the dolla, Cambridge?!

Where you hiding the dolla, Cambridge?!

Increasingly, a postgraduate degree is required for professional jobs. I want to work in international development; but without a Masters, getting a paid professional position in this sector and many others seems nigh on impossible. It is shameful that postgraduate education should be confined to those with wealthy families, or to the few lucky enough to scramble some of the measly funding available to postgrads. Many do not manage to secure funding, and as a result have to terminate their education early.

Why should the context of my birth – the earnings of my parents – determine my life chances? Why should the best jobs continue to be monopolised by alumni of the most expensive private schools, who have the resources for postgraduate study? Why should the development of our minds be restricted by the depth of our wallets?

Wallet

“Why should the development of our minds be restricted by the depth of our wallets?”

Whilst the national government has failed to grasp the nettle, Cambridge has the financial power to act unilaterally. This university has the resources to make a loan scheme for postgrads, modelled on the student loans scheme for undergrads, a reality. It would ensure that Cambridge produces the best postgraduates, many of whom are likely to stay for further research.

In order to sustain Cambridge’s academic reputation, it is crucial that our students are the best of the many, not the best of the few. The academic dividends of a postgrad loan scheme are clear.

Financially, the case is unanswerable: once the scheme is implemented, it will be self-sustaining, because postgraduates would repay their loans. Indeed, by setting the repayment rate at, for example, 1% above inflation, the university could use the dividends to bankroll access work at other levels.

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Common sense: postgraduates will repay their loans

Successive governments have shown that they are not willing to prioritise the interests of students. It is time for this university to act alone to combat elitism. The top universities around the world will be shamed into implementing similar schemes, and indeed they will have to if they want to compete academically. This will show the world that Cambridge truly does care about access and wishes to attract the brightest.

Tab readers, JCRs and MCRs, CUSU, anyone who cares about access to education:the university will not act unless we pressure it to. Send letters, sign petitions, start campaigns – the case for a postgraduate loan scheme is unanswerable.

It is high time to take the next step in improving access to the highest levels of education, and Cambridge can and should lead the way in doing so.