The impending hike in university tuition fees in the UK is prompting companies to offer to shoulder the financial burden in order to attract top graduate talent. Pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) followed the lead of accounting firm KPMG on Wednesday by announcing that it will reimburse tuition fees to all its UK recruits from September 2012. It’s an enticing deal – worth up to £27,000 for those taking a three-year degree – but what are the wider implications?
The scheme is only available to undergraduates and graduates in the United Kingdom who are not yet employed. They will be reimbursed once they start working for GSK, and they must remain with the company for a minimum of two years.
These new deals – which academic employers are unlikely to match – add to the uncertainty of how increased tuition fees will affect postgraduate study, an issue acknowledged by the UK minister for universities and science David Willetts in a speech to university leaders last week. In response to concerns that higher undergraduate fees could mean less postgraduate students, he announced that Adrian Smith, director-general for science and research at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, would reconvene an expert panel that examined the state of postgraduate study last year to review the potential impact.
Ellen Pearce, director of research staff support organisation Vitae, said she welcomed the review. “The potential implications of changes in the undergraduate tuition fees aren’t fully understood,” she told Naturejobs. She said the routes into doctoral research were likely to become more diverse and complex in light of the increased fees. And there may be more mobility between higher education and business if financial reward – such as the deal offered by GSK – becomes a higher priority for students. “There may also need to be new models of postgraduate education that provide more flexibility,” she added.
Universities that plan to charge the maximum allowable fees of £9,000 per year include University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and the University of Exeter.
What’s your reaction to GSK’s plans? Do you think less people will go on to postgraduate study once the higher undergraduate fees are charged? What can academic employers do to compete with the reimbursement deals that will be offered by industry?