Rising numbers of places are being dominated by wealthy foreigners and British students from the most affluent backgrounds following a sharp hike in fees, it is claimed.
According to figures, the average postgraduate course in 2011/12 cost £6,184 – up by almost a quarter in just 12 months. Some courses cost as much as £31,738, with overseas students usually charged more than those from UK and EU member states.
The study – by the CentreForum think tank – warns that postgraduate study is is now out of reach for most people, despite being seen as a prerequisite for many jobs.
It condemned a Government’s loans scheme open to postgraduate students as “breathtakingly inadequate” and called for the system to be overhauled.
The conclusions were made after figures showed a 4.5 per cent drop in the number of UK students taking part in postgraduate education in 2011.
n a damning conclusion, the study said: “Postgraduate education in Britain is like an exclusive golf club.
“Home graduates who lack the means to pay course fees upfront need not apply.
“There is no undergraduate style loans system to ensure fair access, and only very limited funding available from universities, government bodies, employers and commercial lenders.”
The Government has introduced the Professional and Career Development Loan initiative – a bank loan scheme to allow students to borrow between £300 and £10,000 to pay for courses and training.
Loans are normally offered at a reduced interest rate, with the taxpayer covering interest rates while the student completes a course.
But the CentreForum study said the scheme had “proven to be breathtakingly inadequate.”
In 2010, only 5,700 students secured one of the loans, it claimed, which is less than three per cent of the British postgraduates who started a course that year.
It calls for ministers to axe the PCDL scheme in favour of a new system similar to the undergraduate loans scheme, in which students only pay back money after they graduate with earnings of more than £21,000 a year.