Investigating an age threshold for independence at postgraduate level: report to HEFCE
Background and aims: The overall aim of this project was to investigate the age at which young adults might be treated as independent from their parents in terms of assessment of eligibility for postgraduate funding. To meet this aim, we conducted a review of existing literature on young adults’ independence and receipt of resources from parents and critically reviewed the concept of 'independence' in relation to student funding and extant definitions of independence. We then undertook empirical analyses of secondary data to examine young graduates’ circumstances and their variation by parental background. This highlighted strengths and weaknesses of using alternative rules for eligibility for postgraduate funding. We are not seeking to make a case for any particular approach, but instead to present possible approaches in the light of relevant empirical evidence. The data does not provide the answer to where an independence threshold should be drawn, because such a decision involves normative and political, not simply empirical, considerations.
We focus on UK-domiciled graduates and taught postgraduate study in publicly-funded higher education institutions in England. The majority of taught postgraduates receive no external financial support. HEFCE and the Government have been considering the kinds of support which might be provided to increase and widen participation in taught postgraduate study. The project arose from the specific need, identified by Postgraduate Support Scheme 2014/15 pilots, to determine who is most in need of support at taught postgraduate level and to identify an appropriate referent to assess financial need and underrepresentation.