Why Postgraduate Student Finance is Confusing - And What You Can Do to Help Prospective Students With It

This will be the the fifth academic year in which UK student finance has been available for Masters degrees. As revolutionary as payday loans IA they were back in 2016, postgraduate loans may understandly feel like part of the furniture now for marketers, for recruiters and for IAG professionals like me.

There's one group of people for whom this funding option isn't familiar though (and never really will be): prospective Masters students. This is partly because each new cohort obviously encounters and makes sense of student finance for the first time. But it's also because a signficant part of each new postgraduate cohort arrives fresh from a very different undergraduate system. The transition between the two can be disorientating, if not also disheartening and discouraging.

I want to explain why that's the case, what it means for prospective students and what postgraduate marketers and recruiters like you can do to help.

What are postgraduate loans, anyway?

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On the face of it, postgraduate Masters degree loans are fairly simple. English-resident UK students aged under 60 can access income-contingent loans of up to ?11,222 to study their first Masters degree.*

The essential points of the system aren't hard to explain (I just did so in 22 words) and the detail is easy to cover with more complete postgraduate loan guides (chances are your institution maintains a resource of its own, or links to ours).

*I'm speaking here of the loans available from Student Finance England. The existence of three other UK postgraduate finance systems can add its own wrinkles, of course.

Notes from the IAG front-lines

I discuss postgraduate funding with several hundred prospective Masters students a year (and that's just one-to-one at our postgraduate study fairs; events I'm pleased to say we're continuing online).

This has made me a bit of a postgraduate loan geek. Were I ever to go on Mastermind, my tiebreaker question would probably be something like 'Can someone who's completed school in Edinburgh get a Masters loan from Student Finance England to study for an MPhil in Cardiff?' (yes, provided MPhil is the intended exit qualification and they've recently been living in England).

It's also meant that I'm very familiar with the questions students commonly ask about the loans, right after you've explained the basic details above. They go roughly as follows:

  • "Where do I borrow the rest?"
  • "Is there a maintenance loan too, then?"
  • "How do I actually pay for a Masters with this?"

I repeat these not to suggest that the postgraduate finance is fundamentally inadequate or ineffective; there's detailed and compelling evidence that the loans have increased participation in and access to further study.

The vast majority of Bachelors students can take out an SFE loan that pays their university the full cost of their tuition fees, with the option to access a separate and additional maintenance loan, paid to them according to an assessment of their needs.

?11,222 isn't the cost of a Masters (or of any one Masters that I'm aware of) and there isn't any separate maintenance loan. Instead students receive a seemingly arbitrary amount that doesn't bear any obvious relationship to their course fees, their wider costs or their financial circumstances. It's simply paid into their bank account for them to budget with as best they can.

Why does any of this matter?

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For those students who are already in the pipeline, the arrival of launch messaging from SFE helps validate and affirm the feasibility of their decision to do a Masters. For those who were undecided about postgraduate study and / or unaware of the availability of student finance, this is a key nudge point. You might go as far as saying that this is the closest thing we have to a PGT clearing.