By Daniel Hunter

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be supported in postgraduate study with up to £125 million of extra funding, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts has announced.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) are focusing on increasing access to postgraduate education, which has been identified as a potential barrier to social mobility.

An initial £25 million fund will distribute grants of between £300,000 and £3 million to universities and colleges to attract and support disadvantaged students into postgraduate education.

After studying its success, the government will then invest an additional £50m in removing financial or cultural barriers to participation in postgraduate education, as announced in the Spending Review. Extra funding will be expected from universities and businesses, bringing this to around £100 million.

"Postgraduate study is good for students, good for universities, and good for the economy," David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said.

"We want talented graduates from all backgrounds to feel inspired and able to continue their education.

"By removing financial barriers for more masters courses, this potential £125 million investment will provide a big boost to our internationally renowned postgraduate sector."

The announcement comes as HEFCE today published a review showing students' economic background, school history and undergraduate institution all play a role in determining levels of enrolment at postgraduate level.

The Postgraduate education in England and Northern Ireland report also highlights that the English postgraduate sector is globally successful, and postgraduates gain considerable benefits from their study, including increased employability and earnings.

"Postgraduate education in England thrives in a climate of limited regulation and shared contributions from individuals, government and business," Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE Chief Executive, said.

"The funding we are announcing today will help universities and colleges to develop partnerships that fit their particular strengths and interests, encouraging students into postgraduate education and in many cases, postgraduate research."

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