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All-party group to probe postgraduate education

The Higher Education Commission, a parliamentary-led cross-party group, has launched an independent inquiry into the role of postgraduate education in England.

The inquiry is the first from the group, which was set up last summer by Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield.

Its 20 members—spanning education, business and the three major political parties—include Alec Broers, former vice-chancellor of University of Cambridge; Margaret Sharp, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords; Tim Boswell, a Conservative member of the House of Lords; and Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute.

Sheerman told Research Fortnight Today that other inquiries are likely to follow and that postgraduate education is “probably the area where we could make the most difference with our first inquiry.

“Higher education is now a very small part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills…This is a time of great change and turbulence in the HE sector,” he adds.

The inquiry will tackle questions such as postgraduate education’s role in stimulating economic growth; how it enables entry into professional occupations; the UK’s ability to attract international students and researchers; and the higher education White Paper’s implications for postgraduate education.

The inquiry will be headed by IBM technology chief and commission member Graham Spittle. It will be run much like a select-committee inquiry and result in a report in about six months.

However, no details will be shared with the public before the report comes out.

The group will ask for written evidence from interested parties such as industry bodies, vice-chancellors and research councils. The first formal call for evidence will be issued on 6 February.

“We urgently need a robust strategy on postgraduate education,” said Spittle, in a statement.

“Recent parliamentary and media attention has for too long focused exclusively on undergraduate education. This inquiry will seek to shine a light on the role postgraduates play in driving growth.

“The UK faces an increasingly competitive global marketplace in which new players, particularly BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] countries, are investing huge sums of money in postgraduate education.

“If the UK is not careful it will slip from cutting edge to second best,” he added.