Access to postgraduate study - representation and destinations: discussion paper

Independent paper from the Commissioner for Fair Access considering representation of students from the most deprived areas of Scotland in postgraduate study and their destinations.


The Commission on Widening Access (CoWA) focused its efforts on "the core provision of higher education (i.e. full-time first degree study)" but acknowledged regret for not having the time to look further at other areas, such as "outcomes for disadvantaged learners following graduation, including access to postgraduate study". The Commission's final report also recommended:

The Commissioner for Fair Access should… consider what further work is required to support equal outcomes after study for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This paper is part of the programme of work being undertaken to address this recommendation and focuses on Scottish domiciled students undertaking postgraduate study at Scottish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). In some professions, postgraduate qualifications may neither be required, nor be the typical route into a career. However, inequality of access to postgraduate provision may lead to sizeable access issues in certain professions, such as the legal profession, which typically require a postgraduate certification. Postgraduate study[1], as considered in this paper, includes study leading to higher degrees, diplomas and certificates, and generally requires a first degree upon entry. This paper aims to answer, from an analytical perspective, the following questions:

  • Are students from deprived areas underrepresented in postgraduate study and if so, to what extent is this linked to other factors, such as subject studied, that have an effect on whether a graduate progresses from first degree to postgraduate study?
  • Are postgraduate leavers from deprived areas less likely than other students to find a professional level job and if so, is this true when accounting for institution attended, subject studied and qualification type?

(The 20% most) deprived areas are identified throughout by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation[2] (SIMD).



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