Postgraduate study is neglected, say universities
Universities warn of a postgraduate education crisis, saying it has been neglected by successive governments.
A report by the 1994 Group, which represents 19 UK universities, assesses the future of studies post graduation.
It concludes that higher education reforms will cause "great and lasting" damage to postgraduate study.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) says it recognises the importance of this type of education to the sector.
The 1994 Group says the Browne Review of higher education, published in 2010, and the coalition government's subsequent White Paper on the sector failed to consider postgraduate study "with any degree of rigour".
It says that the numbers of UK students taking postgraduate courses rose only marginally between 2002-03 and 2007-08, meaning the UK is lagging behind as rising numbers of international students come to this country to study.
It warns such a decline will have an adverse impact on the UK economy.
The report - The Postgraduate Crisis - warns that funding cuts will force institutions to increase fees, while students may be put off continuing their studies after building up increased debts as an undergraduate.
It says that with no support system in place for postgraduate students, who have to pay their fees upfront, those from disadvantaged backgrounds will be the least able to meet postgraduate course costs.
"From 2012-13, students who pay fees up to £27,000 for a degree and also pay greater interest on their loans, including maintenance loans of up to £23,000 for three-year courses, may be less inclined to take on further debt needed to fund postgraduate study," says the report.
It says action should be taken to encourage banks to offer better terms for personal and career development loans.
'Error of judgement'
Prof Michael Farthing, chairman of the 1994 Group and vice chancellor at the University of Sussex, said: "High level skills are absolutely essential to the country's long-term economic prospects, but we're in real danger of choking off the pipeline of future postgraduate talent.
"The government's failure to address postgraduate funding has been a real error of judgement and we need to see some immediate action to avoid disaster.
"With public finances so tight, the government needs to think innovatively about how to fund postgraduate education.
"It could take years to re-establish postgraduate courses wiped out by the falling demand lack of student funding will bring."
A spokesman for Hefce said it would be publishing a consultation on teaching funding next week, which will include reference to postgraduate teaching.
"We recognise the importance of postgraduate education in the higher education system and we're looking at it very closely," he said.