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Selective universities dominate in roundup of postgraduate numbers

The graduates of just five universities account for one in five of all UK students who go on to study for postgraduate research degrees, says a report commissioned by the Higher Education Academy.

Between 2009-10 and 2010-11, graduates from the University of Cambridge alone made up one in 13 of all UK students going on to pursue research degrees.

The other institutions included in the top five are Imperial College London, the Universities of Manchester and Oxford, and University College London.

The report, published on 25 April, looked at inequalities in progression to postgraduate degrees between students of different genders, ethnic groups, socio-economic backgrounds, UK home nations and undergraduate institutions.

It found that graduates of the Sutton Trust 30 group of highly selective universities account for 70 per cent of those who progress to a research degree.

Graduates from the 1994 Group of smaller, research-intensive universities were found to be the most likely to progress to taught higher degrees.

On average, two out of five graduates going straight on to a higher degree stayed on at their undergraduate place of study.

“Our findings suggest that progression to a PhD is being strongly determined by decisions many students make at 18 or 19,” said co-author Paul Wakeling, commenting on the report. “Just as widening participation at undergraduate level reaches out to pupils in low-participation neighbourhoods, there is a case for targeting high-achieving graduates from the less selective institutions.”

Differences were also found across the UK home nations. Compared with other English regions, Wales and Northern Ireland, graduates originally from London were less likely to enter research degrees and more likely to enter taught higher degrees. The reverse was found to be true for Scottish graduates.

One in 20 British graduates going on to study higher degrees were found to do so abroad.

Overall, around 10 per cent of all graduates went on to study for a higher taught degree, whereas only 2 per cent went on directly to research degrees.

The rate of men progressing to research degrees was found to be around twice that of women. The study found that men had higher rates of progression to postgraduate degrees than women in almost all subjects, including disciplines that are not male-dominated.