For many students, the economic burden imposed by high tuition fees is the only thing stopping them from pursuing their higher education at a postgraduate level.
The idea of taking on another financial obligation can be especially difficult for several reasons: for many, existing student loan debt from their undergraduate course is already a worry. Others are concerned about the unpredictability of the job market, finding it safer to lock down a job than to take on another loan.
However, it’s not all gloomy, and loans are not the only option – there are many ways to fund postgraduate study, and this guide can help you find what might work best for you, whether you’re based in England, Scotland or Wales.
What kind of postgraduate course do I want to take?
First, it’s important to know what kind of postgraduate course you wish to pursue, as funding options for each can be different. There are five types of postgraduate courses, some of which come with their own specific funding:
A master’s course tends to last one academic year full-time or two years if taken part-time, and courses are either research-based or taught. Taught master’s degrees are often like undergraduate degrees, involving seminars, lectures and essay-writing.
A PhD is longer than a master’s degree, tending to last three to four years and culminating in a long thesis on a chosen subject.
A PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) is a vocational degree in which students train to become teachers via a blended method of traditional classroom learning mixed with practical-based school placements. PGCE students will select a specific subject in which to undertake their PGCE degree and specify whether they wish to teach at Primary or Secondary level.
The LLM is a Master’s of Law and is an internationally recognised legal qualification. Those who undertake and complete an LLM are qualified to practise law internationally. During an LLM, students will specialise in a particular area of law, as well as gain experience working on real-life cases.
A PG Diploma (Postgraduate Diploma) is a degree that provides vocational training in a specific industry, such as nursing, midwifery or childcare. Exams follow the same method as an undergraduate or a master’s degree, normally based around exams and coursework. The average PG Diploma takes nine months to complete. Because PG Diplomas are shorter and cheaper, funding is more limited.
Funding for postgraduate loans is different if you normally live in Scotland, Wales or England. Moving somewhere to study does not count as normally living there.
Postgraduate Funding: England
For postgraduate students undertaking a master’s degree starting in 2020/21, the UK government offers a loan sum of £11,222, intended to cover both your course fees as well as living expenses such as rent, food, transport and books.
The master’s loan from Student Finance England is not means-tested, therefore the amount you receive does not depend on your financial background or that of your family. You can choose how much you want to borrow, up to the maximum amount.
For postgraduate students undertaking a PhD, the UK government offers a sum of £26,445, intended to cover both your course fees as well as living expenses such as rent, food, transport and books.
When do I pay it back, and with how much % Interest?
The current level of interest on a UK government postgraduate loan is 5.6%, and you will start to pay it back once you have reached a certain income bracket and have finished your course.
A percentage of your payment will be deducted as a loan repayment once you start earning beyond the required income threshold. For more detailed information, you can check out the government’s website page on student loan repayment.
2. Disability Funding
No matter what postgraduate course you are interested in, help is available for disabled students. The UK government currently offers disabled students a Disability Student Allowance, a sum which can total up to £20,000 and is intended to split costs between medical equipment (up to £5,849 for the duration of the course), non-medical helper allowance (up to £23,258 a year) and a general allowance (up to £1,954 a year.) It should be noted that the sum of £20,000 is a ceiling figure – most students will receive less than this.
When do I pay it back, and with how much % Interest?
Disability Student Allowance is a grant, meaning that it does not need to be paid back. Repayments will occur only when there has been an overpayment, so it is important to be given the right amount specific to your needs.
3. Alumni Discounts and Scholarships
Certain universities offer postgraduate discounts to their undergraduate students, as a means of encouraging them to undertake their postgraduate study with their university. You can enquire at your university or look online to find out if there are available discount programmes applicable to you.
Masters Degrees: Funding Options
1. UK Government Loan
As mentioned above, for postgraduate students undertaking a Masters degree, the UK government offers a loan sum of £11,222, intended to cover both your course fees as well as living expenses such as rent, food, transport and books.
2. Hardship Fund
A hardship fund can be offered to you by your university if your personal circumstances warrant it; the sum of your fund will be dictated by your university and will help contribute to living costs and tuition fees.
Those most likely to receive an allowance from a hardship fund are the following:
When do I pay it back, and with how much % Interest?
Most hardships funds are considered grants, meaning you don’t need to repay the money. Some will be loans, depending on the sum and on the institution.
3. Scholarships, Charity Funding and Self-Funding
Certain universities will privilege high-achieving undergraduates and encourage them to continue their study within their institution by offering various scholarships. Scholarships will normally cover tuition fees and some will often also include a living allowance. Access to these scholarships is limited and highly competitive, normally conditional on exceptional academic achievement.
Charity Funding and Self-Funding
If you are undertaking a research-based postgraduate course, and you believe that your research will help contribute to the development and advancement of a particular industry or subject, you are free to write to charities and organisations which specialise in your study and ask for funding. If you make a compelling case about your research, many organisations might offer full or partial funding, sometimes in exchange for access to your research.
PhD: Funding Options
One of the most efficient ways to partially or fully fund your PhD is to manage to be awarded a Studentship. Studentships are postgraduate positions that have funding attached for fees, living expenses or both. Postgraduate students who are awarded Studentships will usually be required to work for the organisation providing their funding – this obligation is often taken in the form of teaching undergraduates, research or various other jobs within the organisation.
Not only does a Studentship relieve the economic burden of your PhD, but it can be a useful way to make contacts within your chosen industry. However, Studentships are highly competitive and the application process famously rigorous, meaning that the chances of being awarded one can be slim.
For this reason, a studentship should not be your only choice for PhD funding: it is important to have backup options. Most Studentship programmes in the UK are run by UK Research and Innovation, as well as the following organisations:
2. Self-Funding Through Employment
If you have a full-time job and your PhD is directly related to – and would aid and improve – your current work, your employer may be able to fund – either fully or partially – your course. A company will most likely only agree to fund a PHD if the study is of immediate value to their organisation – the company may also demand that the PhD candidate work for them for the duration of the PhD course and perhaps even longer, meaning that this can limit your options in the long-run.
3. Scholarships and Academic Excellence
As with Masters degrees, certain universities will award PhD funding or financial support to those achieving academic excellence at an undergraduate level, especially those who come from deprived backgrounds. Check on your university’s website to see what your options are.
PGCE: Funding Options
1. Subject-Based Sponsorships and Bursaries
Students undertaking a PGCE in one of the following subjects will be eligible to apply for a subject-specific sponsorship or bursary from the UK government to help fund their degree:
Eligibility: Bursaries are available to trainees with a first, 2:1, 2:2, Master’s or PhD.
2. Income-Based Financial Support
Many university institutions will offer financial support to those undertaking a PGCE, especially those who come from deprived backgrounds. Check your university website to find out what is available to you.
LLM: Funding Options
1. Academic Excellence
Undergraduate law students who have demonstrated academic excellence throughout the duration of their degree are able to apply for financial support and partial LLM funding at certain universities. In order to have an application for funding accepted, most candidates will be required to write a letter of request justifying their circumstances in order to be considered for funding.
2. Company Funding
Many legal practices who wish to take on the brightest and best young law graduates will be often willing to fund their LLM degrees, as it aids their practice and helps cultivate loyalty with their graduate intake. Some firms will require that their LLM candidates – upon accepting their funding – stay at their practice for the duration of their LLM, and sometimes longer.
Postgraduate Diploma: Funding Options
Government Loan (Excl. England)
Both Scotland and Northern Ireland include those undertaking PG Diplomas to be eligible for a general postgraduate loan, whereas England does not recognise students taking a PG Diploma as being eligible for a postgraduate loan. In England, certain subjects will only be eligible for postgraduate loans when taken as a full Masters course; this means reconsidering your study options if you haven’t got the means to self-fund a PG Diploma.
If you work in an industry where a PG Diploma would aid and improve your work, you can request that your company or organisation fund your course. PG Diplomas are generally cheaper than other postgraduate courses, meaning that many organisations are more willing to pay out of pocket for the return benefits of improved work and an increased skillset for their employer.
Postgraduate Funding: Scotland
In Scotland, you can borrow up to £10,000 to help you fund postgraduate study. Loans help cover tuition fees and living costs for a master’s degree or Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) at any UK university. Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) provides the master’s funding to you on behalf of the Student Loans Company. You only pay it back after you graduate and earn over £19,390 a year.
The funding is split into two parts:
- A tuition fee loan of up to £5,500 is available for UK students of any age on full-time or part-time courses. This is paid directly to your university.
- A living-cost loan of up to £4,500 is available for UK students aged under 60 on full-time courses. This is paid into your bank account.
To get a Scottish postgraduate loan you need to be a UK student, studying an eligible course at a UK university. You must be a UK student who has lived in the UK for three years and is ordinarily resident in Scotland.
You can get a Scottish postgraduate loan for a taught or research master’s degree or Postgraduate Diploma in any subject. Funding has recently been extended to research master’s (such as MRes or MPhil degrees).
Do I have to study in Scotland?
You can study full time or part-time at any university in Scotland. Or you can study full-time at another UK university, provided you are ordinarily resident in the UK and your course is not available in Scotland.
You’ll be liable to repay your postgraduate loan from 6 April, the year after you graduate.
Your repayments will be calculated for you using an income-contingent system. You’ll repay 9% of what you earn over £19,390 a year before tax. How you repay will depend on your employment status. If you are unemployed, you won’t have to make repayments.
Disabled Students’ Allowance
The Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is an allowance for disabled students to pay for disability-related support during the duration of a course. It is available to both full-time and part-time PG students and the amounts awarded are based on individual requirements rather than income.
Scottish postgraduate students receive a single allowance for basic costs of £1,725, an additional payment of up to £5,160 for specialist equipment and up to £20,520 for non-medical personal help, which are the same amounts that are available for undergraduate students
If you are from Scotland, you can find out if you’re eligible here: Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS)
Postgraduate Funding: Wales
In Wales, if you’re starting a Postgraduate master’s course (taught or research-based) in 2020/2021, you can get funding to help with your course and living costs. A maximum of £17,489 made up of loan and grant is available and can be used as a contribution towards your course and living costs.
Postgraduate Initial Teacher Education
In Wales, Postgraduate ITE courses are eligible for funding to help with tuition and living costs, for both full time and part-time courses that lead to a qualification such as Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).
Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) are also available if you have a disability, including a long-term health condition, mental-health condition or specific learning difficulty. DSAs are grants to help pay the essential extra costs you may have as a direct result of your disability.
From 1 August 2020, you can apply for a Postgraduate Doctoral Loan of up to £26,445, if you’re starting a full-time or part-time postgraduate Doctoral course
Eligibility for funding depends on your nationality and residency, age, course and university or college. You must normally live in Wales, and not just have moved there to study.
For more details on your eligibility criteria, take a look at: https://www.studentfinancewales.co.uk/postgraduate-students/postgraduate-doctoral-loan/eligibility.aspx
Postgraduate master’s loans are charged interest from the first day the money is paid to you. You will be eligible to make repayment the April after you have finished or left the course.
You can find out more about repayment, by visiting www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan
Disabled Students’ Allowances
Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) are available from Student Finance Wales if you have a disability, long-term health condition, mental health condition, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or specific learning difficulty. DSAs are grants, so don’t have to be paid back. You must meet the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
The maximum DSAs available for postgraduate students is a single allowance of £20,580 per year. You don’t have to apply for Postgraduate Master’s Finance to get it.