Paying for it

The age of the postgraduate loan has arrived, but there are other ways of financing your degree
Loans for master’s courses look set to become the norm across the UK as the other home countries follow England and plan to introduce their own schemes. It brings some consistency and equality to the UK picture for students, but loans aren’t the only game in town: you can still find pots of money from unsung charities and grant-funding bodies – money that you won’t have to pay back – if you look carefully.

Postgraduate loans and their differences in the four UK nations

Postgraduate loans began in England in the 2016-17 academic year, with sums of up to £10,000 on offer. The money comes directly to you to be put towards your course fees and living costs, but you are charged interest on it, currently 4.6%.

It is not means-tested though, so anyone who meets the criteria can apply. As with the undergraduate scheme, repayments kick in once your salary hits £21,000 and you repay 6% of the loan a month.

If you already have a master’s qualification or the equivalent, you are ineligible, which inevitably excludes some career-changers from the scheme. But otherwise the loans are available for both research-based and taught courses, and for full-time and part-time study and distance learning.

EU nationals who plan to study at an English university and are living in England when the course starts are also eligible and Brexit has, for now, had no impact on those arrangements.

This year, Scotland is introducing its own student loan scheme for postgraduates on taught schemes of one year, full-time. The £10,000 package is made up of £5,500 to cover tuition fees and £4,500 for living costs. Part-time students can apply for a loan of up to £2,750 per year to cover tuition fees only. EU students starting a postgraduate course in 2017-18 can also apply for tuition fee loans.

The Scottish Funding Council gives money to universities, which some distribute in the form of postgraduate loans. Contact the university whose course you are thinking of applying for to see if they offer a grant or other funding scheme.

Other potential Scottish sources for master’s courses include the Carnegie-Cameron bursaries scheme.

Wales is introducing a postgraduate funding scheme with 2018 looking the likely start date, though an interim scheme may be in place before then. Unlike England and Scotland, the Welsh scheme under discussion would combine grants and loans in a package for students of up to £17,000.

Meanwhile, funding may be on offer at individual institutions that received funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, some of which can be used to support postgraduates. Check with the institution you are applying to.

Northern Ireland is also introducing a postgraduate loan scheme for tuition fees for 2017-18, expected to be up to £5,500. The loans are likely to cover part-time and distance learning courses, as well as full-time programmes in the UK. More details will be made available this spring.

Professional and career development loans

If you already have a master’s or are ineligible for a postgraduate loan for some other reason but are a UK citizen, funding is still available via the Professional & Career Development Loan scheme. This takes the form of a bank loan for up to £10,000 for a two or three-year course.

Alumni benefits

More and more universities are offering their current undergraduates and recent alumni discounts on the course fees of postgraduate programmes as an inducement to pursue their studies there. Many universities also provide grants to help cover part of the cost of tuition to students from under-represented groups, including students from an ethnic minority but also students from low-income families. To find out more, check with your institution.

Other sources

Universities and libraries keep copies of guides such as the Educational Grants Directory and Charities Digest, which list under-publicised potential sources of funding for various purposes, including education.

It is also worth referring to the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding, which lists hundreds of unsung charitable sources and can help you identify the best ones to approach.

Other useful links

Matthew Britten

Matthew Britten, the museum learning officer at the Langley Academy, Berkshire, is studying for an MA in Socially Engaged Practice in Museums and Art Galleries at the University of Leicester.

What made you choose this course?

It’s a new idea and explores a developing field within the museum sector so I saw the potential to contribute to new ideas and contemporary narratives. My job is
all about helping children engage and succeed in education, supported by museum resources, and there are many elements of the course that I thought I could apply to that.
The course is constantly evolving with political and economic developments and is politically charged and engaged with modern society.

How do you hope it will help in your current role?

I work with museum professionals and collections across the south and east of England to support students in engaging and enriched learning in the school. We use real objects, real stories and real people to inspire teaching and learning. This MA is helping me to think outside of the box about the potential of museums to support the needs of their users.

How do you hope it will help to further your career?

Museums are under increasing pressure to define their role within society and this course encourages the museum professionals of the future to bring socially engaged thinking to the heart of their practice.

What advice would you give someone choosing a course?

Select one that really feeds your passion. Think about where you want to be in five years’ time and how you want to get there.


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