Widening participation in postgraduate study

Widening participation in postgraduate study is an emerging area of work at The University of Manchester and across the sector.

We consider this from three angles:

  • supporting current undergraduate students from under-represented backgrounds;
  • widening access to incoming postgraduate taught students;
  • widening access to incoming postgraduate research students.

Some cohorts of students continue to be under-represented in postgraduate study and we're committed to addressing this imbalance. There are many reasons to extend widening participation work to postgraduate study, including:

  • the academic pipeline – as long as inequalities persist in representation among academic staff, promoting diversity in progression to postgraduate study has a key role to play;
  • earnings potential - postgraduate degree-holders tend to earn a higher salary than those with undergraduate degrees alone, linked to the potential for more senior job roles for those with a postgraduate degree;
  • elite professions – access to elite professions, often requiring a postgraduate qualification, are disproportionately populated by those from more affluent backgrounds. 

Over recent years there has been an increase in research in this area, in particular through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Postgraduate Support Scheme (PSS)

The PSS found that lack of funding was a key consideration but that other factors also played a significant role, including the need for additional support to master the key skills and academic practices necessary for postgraduate study. 

Building on these findings we're working to widen access to postgraduate taught study. The Manchester Master’s Bursary awards 75 bursaries of £4,000 each per year to master’s students meeting a number of widening participation criteria. We've also identified areas of low progression to postgraduate taught study among current students and planned targeted interventions around five key areas identified in previous research through an OfS-funded project:

  • there is a need for pre-arrival support;
  • postgraduate study still needs to be demystified;
  • postgraduate taught finance is an area requiring further information, advice and guidance;
  • employability is an area requiring further information, advice and guidance;
  • representation is highly relevant. 

We're also working to widen access to postgraduate research by: 

  • aiming for all awards made through the Wellcome Biomedical Vacation Scholarship Scheme to be given to candidates meeting widening participation criteria from 2022;
  • scoping how to make the postgraduate research admissions process more inclusive. 

We also co-chair the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) Working Group on Widening Participation in Postgraduate Study with the University of Leeds, currently overseeing areas of work across five workstreams:

  • WP PG criteria
  • Careers and employability
  • Approaches to strategy and implementation
  • Research and academic studies
  • On-course success 

You can download the summary report (PDF, 553KB) to see the progress the group has made during 2020-21.

Postgraduate taught progression project 

As part of a consortium including the universities of Leeds, York, Sheffield and Warwick, we took part in a two-year OfS-funded project: Progression to, and success in postgraduate study, by students from BAME and POLAR 1 and 2 backgrounds. The project targeted two groups with notably lower levels of progression to PGT study – Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students, and those whose home postcodes were in POLAR quintiles 1 and 2 (areas of low progression to HE). 

There were two strands of activity: 

  • Strand 1: a series of pre-course interventions for UG final-year students (both BAME and POLAR quintiles 1 and 2) in three subject areas. These included activities such as webinars, mentoring schemes, and academic skills sessions. 
  • Strand 2: a Blackboard course for PGT offer-holders (BAME only) across the University. The course included units on topics such as time management, wellbeing, and academic writing. This course is now delivered to selected home PGT offer-holders across the University on an ongoing basis.  

The end-of-project report is now available: 

 You can also see the project toolkit hosted by the University of Leeds. 

Find out more 

To learn more, please contact felicity.wicks@manchester.ac.uk