It's hard to become an academic in the UK. There are plenty of excellent postgraduate courses around. But for arts and humanities subjects, the question is not whether one has been accepted onto a course but whether one can get funding. The Arts and Humanities Research Council can fund only a quarter of the applications it receives. So for me, and for many of my friends, progression to the next stage of an academic career depends not upon ability but upon money.
Of course one could argue that the AHRC provide a filter for ability. However experience has shown me just how random the allocation can be. Students with firsts are turned down; others with 2.1s receive money.
I admit that my perspective on this is tinged with the bitterness of rejection. And I'm lucky because I've been able to get money together for my MPhil this year. But my dream of continuing to work at Cambridge for my PhD next year seems very distant when the pot of money is so limited.
In the USA, a place at graduate school is usually fully funded. So I've put in applications to some American colleges. The programmes are excellent there, but I admit that I would not have considered applying overseas were it not for the fact that I may find myself in the position of being unable to pay for a PhD in the UK.