Postgraduate Loans: Spreading the Word

In 2016 the UK government introduced the ‘Master’s Loan’ for England and Wales. Under this scheme, people applying for Master’s level study (full or part time) could be eligible for a loan of more than £10,000, to be repaid in much the same way as an undergraduate student loan – or written off eventually under the same terms.

[There are a couple of catches, most significantly the age limit: you have to be under 60 when the course starts.]

Although this scheme began in 2016, I’ve been coming across a lot of final year undergraduates in 2018 who haven’t even heard that a loan for Master’s study is available. So this article is my attempt to spread the word. If you’ve considered an MA and dismissed it on financial grounds, think again: it may be more achievable than you realised!

This year the government has added a new twist: for the first time there’s a doctoral loan available, and it’s now open for applications. If you start a PhD (full or part time) in or after August 2018 onwards, you should be entitled to borrow £25,000 across the duration of your doctorate [provided you’re under 60].

For many people, this new loan will make the dream suddenly seem within their reach.


Thinking back to when I first applied to do a PhD, money was at the top of my rather long list of worries. I made the decision to go for it, regardless of the financial outcome: but I had a big sheet of paper with three different plans drawn up, covering different levels of possible financial crisis. At the top (because it was the most likely outcome, in my view) was my plan for what I would do if I received no funding at all from anywhere and couldn’t borrow money. That plan required me to live on rice cakes and hold down two jobs, with lots of walking to minimise the expense of public transport. If I’d had to put that plan into action I would be in excellent shape by now – but I probably wouldn’t have completed my PhD!

I was lucky, as it happened: while applying for part-time jobs I found out that I’d been granted full funding from the AHRC for my PhD, so I was able to shelve my money worries for a fantastic three years. However, it was a luxury I never took for granted. Around me, the other people in my department who were pursuing PhDs were all self-funded, and it was a difficult life. I knew three postgraduate students who studied during the day and stacked shelves in a supermarket at night, and for them every setback or additional challenge in their research came as a crushing blow, because they simply didn’t have the time or the energy to handle it.

cat busker

This new doctoral loan is, in my view, a great thing if it gives prospective PhD students more options and cuts down on nocturnal shelf stacking. True, borrowing money is never ideal – but if this will allow you to achieve something you’ve wanted for a very long time, then I think it’s worth considering.

The problem is that very few people are talking about these brand new loans – and opportunities are being missed.

So I’d like to ask for your help. If you know somebody in England or Wales who would love to do an MA or a PhD, tell them about this. Pass the message on. I know that the British way is to avoid talking about money – but we can make an exception to save someone from three years of rice cakes!


Cora Beth Knowles

8 thoughts on “Postgraduate Loans: Spreading the Word

  1. I’d have been able to scrape by paying for my MA without the loan but thought, why not use the funds when they are there and it saved me from decimating my savings. If all goes to plan with my MA though I really hope to continue to PhD and the Student Finance option will enable that.


  2. Worth flagging up part-time distance learning postgraduate research (PTDL PGR). You need to be suited to studying in a strategic, structured, systematic way; and to be earning from a part-time job that can accommodate such an approach. I found the routine my job imposed on my studies really rather helpful. My job also ‘derailed’ my brain for a few hours a day, giving it a rest and refreshing it ready to get the research back ‘on track’ (usually a more productive ‘track’ than before).


    1. True – employment isn’t a bad thing, which is probably one of the reasons why full-time postgrads are often encouraged to teach. It’s good to have some structure, and a regular distraction!


      1. I think it needs passing on as much as possible! I only knew about postgraduate loans because someone in student support told me. As far as I’m aware it’s not really publicised anywhere else!


      2. There’s now a useful page on Masters loans on the OU Finance site; but so far there’s nothing at all on doctoral loans. I think it’s crucial to get the information out there, particularly to those heading into their final undergraduate module, so that people are aware of their options.

        Liked by 1 person

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