The Higher Education Commission found fewer than one in 10 students go on to postgraduate study. This has raised concerns that the UK economy will soon face a dangerously low proportion of highly-skilled workers, exacerbated by the number of foreign students on PG courses who abscond after graduating.
Peter Glover, from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said: "Our research suggests in-demand skills such as advanced numeracy and technical skills are associated with postgraduates by employers.
"There seems to be an undersupply in postgraduate qualified people who can operate at the level required by these companies."
Despite having one of the highest undergraduate participation rates in the world with support in place for poorer students, postgraduate support is severely limited. The Commission’s report calls for a new state-backed loan scheme on a par with the provisions currently given for undergraduate students, warning that the postgraduate system excludes poorer students and fails to produce sufficient numbers of highly-trained workers. This may lead to UK companies needing to rely on foreign workers, or move their offices overseas where qualified staff can be found.
Since 2001, the total number of postgraduate students in Scotland – including those from overseas, Europe and the rest of the UK – has risen by 41% overall, whilst the number of Scottish PG students has declined by 1.5%.
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, the body representing university principals, believes the postgrad system must be addressed to stop UK companies outsourcing. He said: "Looking across the world, it is increasingly the norm to stay on at university and get a postgraduate degree. This is something Scotland will need to address for Scots if we are to remain competitive in a global economy and international labour market."
SRC President James Harrison admitted more could be done to help postgraduates. He said: "Universities should be encouraged to do more to attract students from poorer backgrounds into considering postgraduate study. If students want to do postgraduate study, steps should be taken to help make them more aware and to facilitate it for them. Scottish universities do provide great postgraduate education, and at Glasgow in particular there is great support."