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Postgraduate Learnings for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Great Britain

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Last week the newly-formed Higher Education Commission brought us some rather startling news. It seems that in the European Champions League of Postgraduate Education, Britain's poor conversion of undergraduates into postgraduates puts us alongside Andorra and Kazakhstan - the smallest nation in Europe, and a country made famous by Sacha Baron Cohen's ridiculous, sexist, homophobic and incestuous 'comic' character.

What this means is that fewer than one in 10 UK graduates opt to continue their education to master's level or beyond. Contrast this with America, where almost 8% of the entire population hold a Master's degree, and perhaps we Brits really are as ignorant and poorly educated as Borat.

Of course, this statistic doesn't account for the sheer number of UK graduates - higher than any other European nation in 2010. But as a post-industrial nation, hoping to rebrand ourselves as a knowledge-based economy, as David Cameron suggested as far back as 2010, we should be leading the way in all forms of higher education. Or at least jostling for the lead, rather than scraping our way into a penalty shoot-out with Andorra.

The prospects don't look exactly rosy in the near future either. Undergraduates affected by the introduction of higher tuition fees will very soon be graduates - with £27,000 worth of debt accumulated, without even taking into account their living costs, how many 21-year-olds would relish the idea of funding another year of education?

But it shouldn't necessarily be that way. British higher education is a world-class product, with almost 430,000 overseas students in UK universities - that 50% of them are postgraduates tells you that, if anything, postgraduate teaching in Britain is better renowned than undergraduate teaching. It is a travesty that the majority of UK-domiciled students are choosing not to take the opportunities that are on their doorstep.

This is particularly surprising given the state of the global economy, and in particular the apparent scramble for graduate jobs. With around 9% of all graduates unemployed six months after graduating, and countless others languishing behind bars or stacking shelves, more graduates are searching for meaningful employment than are in postgraduate education.

If competition for jobs is so fierce, why aren't more students taking any opportunity available to them to set themselves apart and enhance their prospects?

It would be easy to blame the government for stifling student ambition with crippling debts. Or to blame the students themselves for lacking the drive or imagination to work harder to differentiate themselves from their peers. Or to blame banks who, according to the Higher Education Commission report, are 'reluctant to lend money' to postgraduate students.

But I think the blame should rest with the universities. The institutions, generously funded by their students and the taxpayer, seem to consider British graduates to be a kind of second-class citizen. They consider providing postgraduate education to overseas students to be their cash cow, and direct their efforts to selling their product to that market. The figures show them to have been very successful, but now it is time for them to justify their public funding and switch their focus back to UK graduates.

During my time at university I cannot recall ever having been spoken to about postgraduate study or how to go about progressing, let alone being persuaded that it might be beneficial for me.

Not once, in three years of being forced to attend lectures and seminars in the very institution that should have been keen to sell their product to me, did the University take advantage of their captive audience to market their postgraduate programme. There's a good chance I wouldn't have listened to a fusty old academic, but if they had wheeled out the careers department to tell me it would help me get a job (and consequently a girlfriend) I would have been all ears.

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