HEFCE publishes analysis of 2014–15 Postgraduate Support Scheme pilots

The report evaluates and summarises findings from the £25 million initiative, which involved 40 higher education institutions in 20 projects to support and improve progression to taught postgraduate education. 

HEFCE publishes analysis of 2014–15 Postgraduate Support Scheme pilots

In partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council, HEFCE commissioned Paul Wakeling of the University of York to conduct an evaluation of the Postgraduate Support Scheme running in the academic year 2014–15. 

The report evaluates and summarises findings from the £25 million initiative involving 40 higher education institutions in 20 projects to support and improve progression to postgraduate education.

Final Report to ESRC and HEFCE - Programme Analysis of HEFCE's Postgraduate Support Scheme

The report finds that:

  • There is latent and frustrated demand for postgraduate taught study among graduates, especially disadvantaged students.
  • Funding is critical for students’ success.
  • Both financial and non-financial interventions are necessary to support success at postgraduate level. If the intention is to support widening participation at postgraduate level, then targeting of funding will be important.
  • A partnership model is emerging between employers, universities and students to develop innovative and responsive curricula that maximise students’ employability and employers’ recruitment opportunities.
  • The pilot projects provide proof of concept for innovations in the courses universities offer at taught postgraduate level.
  • They also demonstrate the value of universities adopting a strategic and joined-up approach to their postgraduate teaching [Note 1].

Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE Chief Executive, said:

Postgraduate education is important for the life chances of individuals, for the supply of the highest levels of skills to enhance the nation’s productivity, and for universities as a bridge between their teaching and research activities. The PSS pilot projects provide an important source of evidence to inform government policy, university practice and further research. They have also enabled a substantial cohort of students to benefit from postgraduate study who would otherwise have been unable to do so.

This has set the pattern for the further investment we are making through the second round of the PSS in 2015–16, and the Government’s consultation on the introduction of loan finance from 2016–17. Beginning with today’s conference at the University of Sheffield, HEFCE will work with Government and the sector to ensure we secure the full benefits of this work.’

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said:

This pilot programme demonstrates the life-changing role postgraduate finance can play in removing financial barriers to further study. Our proposed Postgraduate Masters Loan scheme will help talented students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to learn the high-level skills that benefit businesses up and down the country.’

The Government made clear its intention to support postgraduate education through a three-stage approach in the Autumn Statement 2014 [Note 2].

In the first stage, the PSS scheme was agreed in response to evidence in two reports published in July 2013, which highlighted the achievements of the postgraduate sector in England, but also recognised some threats to student opportunity at this level [Note 3]. The PSS builds on the additional £200 million investment HEFCE has made through recurrent funding for taught and research postgraduate education between 2012–13 and 2014–15 following decisions taken by the Board in 2012.

In the second stage, during 2015–16, HEFCE has allocated £50 million to higher education institutions to offer bursaries on a matched funding basis, announced in the Autumn Statement 2014. Bursaries of £10,000 will benefit 10,000 students. The 2015–16 scheme draws on findings from the HEFCE pilots to help universities and colleges decide how to allocate the bursaries.

This provides a bridge to the third stage, where Government has consulted on a £10,000 income-contingent loan for individuals wishing to undertake a year’s postgraduate taught masters study in any subject. The consultation on the proposed loan scheme closed in May 2015 and the Government’s response is expected in autumn 2015. The Government’s commitment to the loan scheme is affirmed in its Productivity Plan [Note 4]. 

HEFCE PSS Project Manager, and member of the UKCGE Postgraduate Funding Working Group, Dr Brooke Storer-Church has compiled a blog alongside the release of the report which references themes such as curriculum devleopment with employers, mentoring and employability and comprehensive projects.


  1. See Programme analysis of HEFCE’s Postgraduate Support Scheme: Final report to ESRC and HEFCE’.
  2. The Autumn Statement is available to download. The section on postgraduate loans is on pages 44 to 45.
  3. See Trends in transition from first degree to postgraduate study: Qualifiers between 2002-03 and 2010–11’ (HEFCE 2013/13) and Postgraduate education in England and Northern Ireland: Overview report 2013’ (HEFCE 2014/14). The reports, data, and analysis undertaken or commissioned by HEFCE to build the evidence base on postgraduate education in England are available at www.hefce.ac.uk/sas/pg/rd/.
  4. Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation’