Postgraduate students make up almost a quarter of all students in the UK, but they rarely attract the level of attention and priority that their numbers demand. Amidst the tough decision making about university recruitment and academic scheduling earlier in the Covid pandemic, it was unsurprising to see the announcements being made about pausing postgraduate course recruitment and deferring September 2020 start dates to January 2021 or beyond.
In July it was reported that ‘around half of the UK’s Russell Group universities consider[ed] delaying their postgraduate courses to begin in January of 2021’. Although these delayed start dates didn’t come to fruition as widely as anticipated, the decision to postpone courses resulted in some prospective postgraduate students feeling that the impact on their finances and living arrangements simply hadn’t been taken into account. Others accused universities of prioritising finance over students and said they considered the “prioritisation of worldwide offer holders over their former students to be disheartening”.
A report by FindAUniversity however, found that 60% of potential postgraduate students would support either a January delay, or blended transition, as long as they would receive on-campus delivery when starting. 
With many universities adopting a more flexible approach to their postgraduate recruitment, with three or more potential start dates across the academic year, as well as offering online versions of taught Master’s courses, it would appear that opportunity for postgraduate taught (PGT) study has never been so accessible.
And demand also seems to be growing alongside this increased accessibility and course provision. The uncertainty and instability of employment created by Covid-19 has left many students, particularly recent undergraduates, wary and concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their prospects. It is unsurprising then that ‘62% of recent graduates who were planning to seek work now say the pandemic has made them more likely to consider a Master’s to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on their career.
Universities who want to increase their PGT recruitment over the next 12 months will need to understand the needs of this group of potential students and what it is that is influencing their decision making as the situation changes. Alterline recently worked with four university partners on an insight project which tracked the thoughts, feelings, behaviours and intentions of potential UK and international Master’s students to provide this insight in the lead up to their 2020 intake. Whilst our past research had identified employability as a priority factor in the postgraduate decision-making process, this year’s Covid tracker found that the main concern of prospective PGT students is with the quality of teaching. Over half (53%) of the respondents said they would be highly concerned or even choose not to undertake postgraduate study if teaching was not up to standard compared to 44% who would be concerned about it improving their employability. We also found that the attraction of deferment was high, with 51% of potential PGT students telling us they were considering, or had decided to defer their start dates, until Sept/October 2021.
As students’ concerns and priorities are changing, their need for up-to-date information from universities to inform their decision making is rising. 69% of postgraduate applicants said they wanted more information about Covid-19 and the effects it may have on their postgraduate application or university life over the next year.
We will be running our Master’s intelligence project again over the next 7 months, working in partnership with FindAUniversity, to enable universities to keep up to date with this rapidly changing picture, including start date and teaching preferences, and meet the information needs of prospective 2021 intake PGT students. Details can be found here about both the national/international insight project and the institution-specific options which universities can choose to run with their own enquirers and applicants.
 Dominic Penna and Eirian Jane Prosser, ‘Half of Russell Group universities to delay the start of the academic year due to coronavirus’, [https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/06/19/half-russell-group-universities-delay-start-academic-year-due/]
 Lizzy Cooney, ‘Students ‘shocked’ as some University of Leeds MA courses pushed back to 2021’ [https://thetab.com/uk/leeds/2020/06/18/students-shocked-as-university-of-leeds-ma-courses-pushed-back-to-2021-51956]
 FindaUniversity.com, ‘Covid-19 and postgraduate taught recruitment: motivations, concerns and future opportunities’ p. 9 [https://findauniversity2.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/clients/reports/insight/FindAUniversity+Covid-19+%26+PGT+Report+Aug+20.pdf]
 FindaUniversity.com, ‘Covid-19 and postgraduate taught recruitment: motivations, concerns and future opportunities’ p.2 [https://findauniversity2.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/clients/reports/insight/FindAUniversity+Covid-19+%26+PGT+Report+Aug+20.pdf]