Fresh loans to cover course fees and living costs have thrown a financial lifeline to some postgraduate students. But course fees are still high: the average was £7,400 in 2018-19, up by 31% on 2014-15.
Over the past couple of years, the government has introduced financial aid for postgrads: loans of up to £10,609 for master’s students, and as much as £25,000 for doctoral students. “It’s a high financial bar to study a postgrad, but that bar is a little bit lower now,” says Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute. “That’s been good for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.”
Postgrad students under 60 living in England and most EU nationals on programmes at UK universities are eligible for these two loans. Repayments for both are set at 6% of annual income over £21,000. There’s also interest: the retail price index (RPI) plus 3%.
Those with a master’s and a doctoral loan make a combined repayment of 6% covering both. Students apply online or by post through Student Finance England or the equivalent body in their country.
But these loans won’t necessarily cover all expenses – for living, travel, and books, for example – so students may need to turn to the private sector for extra funding. However, this can lead to enormous repayments when postgraduates start earning more – especially if they’re paying off undergraduate debt simultaneously.
Martin Lewis, founder of Moneysavingexpert.com, says different financing options might suit different students. “If you’re likely not to get a big salary then you will want a postgrad government loan. If you’re a high earner with a good credit score, then you may find it cheaper to get a personal loan.” Admiral and Sainsbury’s are currently offering personal loans of up to £15,000 with fixed annual interest rates of 2.7-2.8%, for example.
Most universities provide generous scholarships, and websites such as The Scholarship Hub are a good place to find out all about them. The University of Sheffield, for example, offers around 100 scholarships worth £10,000 apiece to postgrad students each year, with awards based on widening participation criteria and merit – students from a low-income background or with a first-class undergraduate degree would qualify, for instance.
These are competitive, however; about 1,000 people apply for Sheffield’s postgrad scholarships each year. Joe Woolway, acting head of financial support, advises getting detailed applications in early. “What we look for is someone with clear rationale for studying a postgrad and clear career aspirations,” he says. University of Sheffield alumni can get 10% lopped off their tuition fees, but those receiving this discount cannot apply for a scholarship.
Local governments, charities and trusts for funds are other options. The Economic and Social Research Council provides studentships for some doctoral students worth up to £20,237, covering maintenance, research, travel and other fees. Some postgrads have even crowdfunded their tuition through websites such as Indiegogo.
Part-time work can also help you pay the postgrad bills. Mary Tear, 24, worked for the University of Sheffield as an administrator during her postgrad law degree there. “They knew my studies came first and were flexible if I needed time off when essays got overwhelming,” she says. “There are plenty of ways to pay for university. You just have to get creative.”