Universities will receive additional subsidies for graduate courses, as officials and ministers start to pay increasing attention to the biggest remaining gap in the coalition’s higher education reform plans: how to support the country’s base of postgraduates.

The central problem is that postgraduates pay fees, but cannot access the same government-backed loan scheme as undergraduates. A strong supply of home-grown researchers is seen as essential to maintaining top-tier research centres.

Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, has announced that his body, which administers public funding to universities, will provide an extra £1,100 ($1,744) in funding for each full-time post-graduate students starting taught courses in 2012-13.

Universities, which have been increasingly anxious about postgraduates, welcomed the announcement. Michael Farthing, chairman of the 1994 group of research-intensive universities and vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, said the funding was “a breakthrough moment for postgraduate study”.

Sir Alan has previously expressed his concern that, after undergraduate fees rise next year, potential postgraduates will be more indebted and could be loath to take on more debts to fund further study. On Wednesday he said: “We will review participation levels for this group of students [postgraduates] as part of our wider remit to monitor the impact of the reforms.”

The announcement also confirmed the level of subsidy that universities would receive for undergraduate courses. In addition to fees of up to £9,000, universities will receive an additional £9,804 for medical courses and £1,483 for other science courses. Cheaper courses, such as the arts and the humanities, will receive no subsidy.

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