How will the increase in undergraduate fees affect taught postgraduate fees?

Undergraduate tuition fees in England are set to rise in 2012 with most universities aiming to charge the maximum possible £9000.

This is a topic that many people are thinking about, particularly how it might affect the future of the higher education sector.

What I haven’t heard many people talk about, though, is how the fee rise might affect the fees for taught postgraduate courses, such as an MSc or MA. In my field, the fees seem to be around £4000-6000 for a 1-year, full-time postgraduate course. I don’t really know how these fees are calculated.

So, back to undergraduates.

In science and engineering, it has become very common to take a 4-year undergraduate degree, often called something like MSci, MPhys, MChem or MEng. After 2012, though, the fees for all years of courses like these will be over £6000, most likely £9000.

I’m guessing that more people will be happy with a 3-year BSc than pay another £9000 to get an MSci, MPhys, MChem, MEng etc instead of the BSc.

Alternatively, they might choose to graduate with a BSc and then enrol on an MSc course and (assuming MSc fees don’t increase substantially in the next few years) they could get two degrees (BSc and MSc) for less than the price of one (MSci).

Of course the assumption that MSc fees don’t increase substantially in the next few years was meant to be the focus of this post. So what might happen?

Will universities that run 4-year undergraduate courses increase their MSc fees to protect their undergraduate income?

Maybe some universities could use lower MSc fees to “poach” students from other universities or other courses within their university.

Or, perhaps most likely, taught postgraduate fees will increase to come in to line with undergraduate fees. I’d expect that this would decrease the number of students staying at university for a 4th year in any form, which might even affect the numbers that go on to PhD level and beyond.

I don’t really know. I’d like to hear what others think though.

(Update: I forgot to mention that MSc fees are paid upfront whereas as UG fees are paid via government loan. So the MSc route only applies if you have cash or a bank loan. H/T @WilliamCB and @fLiP_uk)


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9 Responses to “How will the increase in undergraduate fees affect taught postgraduate fees?”

  1. xtaldave Says:

    It’s an interesting question, and one that I certainly haven’t seen asked anywhere else.

    Speaking as someone who went the BSc > MRes > PhD route, and had to pay for my MRes via a bank loan, I’d be interested to know what the intentions of the universities are.

    At the time, my MRes course fee was ~£3000, I’ve just checked and for 2011/12 the same course is being offered at ~£4500 (inflation eh?) – so certainly in this case, it would be cheaper to complete a masters separately for £4500, rather than pay another £9000 for a fourth year as an undergraduate.

    I can’t imagine that the universities will leave this loophole open for very long though.

    • andyrussell Says:

      Sounds similar to my journey. I did a NERC funded MSc after a BSc. It was a really good bridging course and I got my teeth into a research project that wouldn’t have been possible on the MSci I could’ve done. NERC have, of course, now cut all their funding for MSc students.

  2. Grumpy Bob Says:

    I think the issue for setting MSc fee levels relates to how much HEFCE (and their regional equivalents) contribute to the costs of delivering teaching.
    I don’t know what that contribution is, not do I know whether it’s been cut in the same way as undergraduate funding has. Perhaps it’s just not on HMG’s agenda as the student numbers are lower than undergraduate numbers?


  3. Hypocentre Says:

    I can’t see universities being able to justify for long having 180 credit MSc courses at £4500 when 120 credit MSci courses are £9000. Having taught on MSc courses in the past they are certainly far more work.

    The other main issue as you say is that NERC who have also had their budget cut are cutting their funding support to MSc courses, in order to preserve the support for PhD students.

    Government suggests that vocational MScs should be funded/supported by the industries that need the graduates. In geophysics, the British Geophysical Association have asked the geophysics industry about this. The smaller firms say they don’t have the money in a recession and the oil companies are saying that they are already paying enough in taxes, having been just been hit with another large tax increase, and the government should pay for education.

    Basically, government hasn’t thought it through. For specialist vocational expertise (which in geoscience is masters level) in certain disciplines in earth sciences (micropalaeontology for example) MSc courses have already closed in the UK and the graduate jobs in those areas are now going to foreigners.

    We are sleep-walking into a massive technical skills shortage in the UK.

    • andyrussell Says:

      I completely understand NERC cutting their MSc funding but combined with the effects of the UG fee increase, well, I can’t say that I’m much more optimistic about this than you appear to be.

  4. diogenes Says:

    in the short-term, all universities will increase their fees to the max, in order to avoid being seen immediately as sub-standard. In the longer term, fesss will settle downh to realistic levels – high fees for Oxbridge, Durham, Imperial, Bristol etc…lower fees for other places. Post-grad fees will follow the same pattern. I speak as an economist so you are free to deride me for not praticisnh a “hard” discipline. High fees for post-grad work will discourage applicants…which will result in down-sizing departments, unless there is a record of high achievement.

    • andyrussell Says:

      Thanks for the insight. I’m not sure why you think I would deride an economist for talking about economic issues! I don’t recall deriding anyone here for their background.

  5. enzo Says:

    My cousin is doing a BENG in motorsport engineering ….he wants to do MENG now but he was told the loan company will not give him loan for another year coz thts not in his contract…so people be careful on what you decide BENG or MENG…As for me I have completed BSC and will be doing MSC now…hopefully before the post grad fees rises…….

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