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‘If no-one’s gone to university in your family, how are you meant to figure this stuff out?’: first-generation students’ journeys into postgraduate taught education in England

conference contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 19:51 authored by Rosanna Marvell
Postgraduate taught (PGT) education is increasingly prominent in the UK higher education (HE) landscape. With the massification of undergraduate education, credential inflation has increased and the (graduate) labour market has become ever-more competitive and precarious (Waller et al., 2014; Wakeling and Laurison, 2017; Ingram et al., 2018). PGT is positioned as one response to the underlying vulnerability (Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), 2016). In fact, data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA, 2019) show that UK Master’s enrolment in 2017/18 reached its highest number for several years (334,310, up from 299,110 in 2014/15), perhaps as a result of the introduction of student finance for postgraduate study. At present, this may be an effective strategy for students responding to economic insecurities. PGT currently has clear advantages, including access to professional careers, highly-skilled, ‘prestigious’ work, technical skills development, career progression and significant lifetime wage premiums (Ho et al., 2012; Kember et al., 2014; Morgan, 2014; D’aguiar and Harrison, 2015; Mellors-Bourne, 2015; Morgan, 2015; Strike and Toyne, 2015; Bamber et al., 2017; McPherson et al., 2017; Wakeling et al., 2017: 1; Wakeling and Laurison, 2017). It can also propel ‘softer’ outcomes, such as enhancing social networks, transferrable skills, self-confidence and passion for learning (De Boer et al., 2010; Wakeling, 2010; Ho et al., 2012; Kember et al., 2014; D’aguiar and Harrison, 2015; Bamber et al., 2017). Whilst there has been reasonable interest on returns to PGT, the trajectories which lead to it have been significantly under-researched, particularly from a widening participation (WP) perspective. This gap in knowledge limits our understanding of who can ultimately access the benefits of PGT and what might facilitate, hamper or otherwise shape their journeys, as well as the continuities of inequity from undergraduate to PGT study. To contribute to this ongoing conversation, this chapter presents early insights from an ESRC-funded doctoral research project with current Master’s students who were the part of the first generation in their family to enter HE.


Publication status

  • Published


Delivering the Public Good of Higher Education: Widening Participation, Place and Lifelong Learning


Forum for Access and Continuing Education

Page range


Event name

Forum for Access and Continuing Education Annual Conference

Event location

Sheffield Hallam University, UK

Event type


Event date

3rd - 5th July 2019

Department affiliated with

  • Education Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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