The number of applicants for postgraduate degrees at Oxford overtook the number of applications for undergraduate degrees for the first time ever last year, according to newly-released figures by a government review into postgraduate education in the UK.
The ratio of graduate applications to filled places for entry in 2009/10 is four to one, while at undergraduate level it is five to one. Applications for postgraduate study at Oxford has risen by 60% over the past four years. Over the same period, the number of places for postgraduate study has increased by 34%.
The University has already received graduate 18,800 applications for the next academic year, and is expecting to receive more in the coming months. The total undergraduate applications this year came to 17,144.
This reflects a general increase in demand for postgraduate study at British universities. It has been suggested that the recession is the primary cause of this, as graduates are unable to find jobs and instead choose to boost their qualifications.
Ewan McKendrick, Oxford’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, said to the Times, “We have more or less hit the ceiling, so if we want to go further to expand graduate numbers we have difficult decisions to make.
“Oxford is now the UK’s largest recipient of research funding and the quality and impact of its research is world-renowned.
“Its continued growth and development as a centre of excellence could not have been possible without an increasing number of graduates working on research projects and supporting Oxford’s world-leading research.”
There is concern that this surge in applications could undermine efforts to widen access, as student loans are only available to under-graduates. Post-graduate grants are competitive, and many post-graduates have to secure their own funding either from their family or elsewhere.
Sarah Hutchinson, OUSU VP for graduates, is enthusiastic about the latest figures, “It is very exciting that so many students are interested in taking up postgraduate study at Oxford, although the surge in applications in the last two years may reflect difficulties graduates have experienced in finding employment due to the recession.”
Hutchinson also expressed concern that the high cost of post-graduate study would deter potential applicants.
She said, “I am very concerned that the cost of postgraduate study will put people off applying, but I would recommend anyone worried about this to get in touch with the University’s Graduate Fees and Funding office, who can advise them of the support available.
“The need to increase access to postgraduate study was a key message in the OUSU submission to the Smith review on postgraduate education, and is something we are currently working on with colleges, the university and the NUS. It is essential that the Graduate Fund remains a top priority for the University if we want to continue to attract the best applicants”.
The cost of graduate study at Oxford varies depending on course. University fees for home students are generally around £3,500, though some can be £25-30,000 per year. Overseas students generally pay between £12,200 and £33,000, and students also pay college fees, typically between £1,900 and £2,300.
Jane Sherwood, Director of Graduate Admissions and Funding, said, “The upward trend in applications predates the global financial downturn and reflects the appeal of studying at a world-renowned university, the quality of teaching and research supervision and the high quality of the research being undertaken here by world-leading academics”
There are now 8,701 postgraduates at Oxford, compared with 11,766 undergraduates. Oxford currently offers 328 different graduate degree programmes.