UK government postgraduate loan scheme

Loans for Masters degrees 

Government-backed loans are making a Masters degree realistically affordable to almost everyone for the first time in years.

Key facts

  • You can borrow up to £10,280
  • Any Masters programme in any subject, taught or research
  • Full-time or part-time and distance learning are included
  • Loans are available at any university with degree-awarding powers in the UK
  • Anyone aged under 60 is eligible
  • Repayments are income-contingent with a £21k threshold and will not begin until the year after you graduate.

Apply for a postgraduate loan here.

Which programmes are included?

Loans are available for any taught or research Masters programmes, in any subject, full-time or part-time, beginning from 1 August 2016.

Programmes must be classified at level 7 (Masters) on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and not level 8 (Doctoral).

Eligible Masters courses include the following:

  • MSc (Master of Science)
  • MA (Master of Arts)
  • MPhil (Master of Philosophy) on entry 
  • MRes (Master of Research) on entry
  • LLM (Master of Law)
  • MLitt (Master of Letters)
  • MFA (Master of Fine Arts)
  • MEd (Master of Education)
  • MBA (Master of Business Administration)
  • MbyRes (Masters by Research)*

Postgraduate loans are NOT available for Masters degrees taken as an integral part of Doctoral degrees.

*MbyRes (Master of Research) loan is paid over two years for full time students in line with programme length. 

PGCert and PGDip (including PGCE)

You can’t get a Postgraduate Loan for postgraduate level courses, such as PgCert (Postgraduate Certificate), PgDip (Postgraduate Diploma), Legal Practice Certificate (LPC), or where the course is funded by undergraduate student finance, such as:

  • Initial Teacher Training (ITT) / Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)
  • Integrated Masters (such as MEng, MLibArts, MMath)
  • Master of Architecture (MArch)

Part-time and distance-learning

You can study your course in person or by distance learning, and your course can be up to four years long. You can take up to two years for the equivalent of a one year full-time course, up to four years for the equivalent of a two year full-time course, or you can study a three year part-time course with no equivalent full-time course.

Postgraduate loans are not available for Masters degrees that are undertaken as an integral part of a Postgraduate Doctoral Degree, ie. a 1+3 studentship.

Accredited prior learning (APL) and Masters 'top ups'

Postgraduate loans are NOT available for partial MA programmes where the student brings accredited prior learning with them from another qualification - ie. if you had 60 credits of APL from a PGCE and wished to take this into an MA Education. To receive a postgraduate loan you need to be studying a full 180 credits.

Intercalated degrees

Postgraduate loans may be available for Masters degrees taken as an intercalated year within an extended undergraduate degree, such as BMBS Medicine. Students who are eligible for a healthcare bursary, such as NHS bursary, would not be eligible for a Postgraduate Loan.

Legal Practice Certificate (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)

The Postgraduate loan is NOT available for stand-alone LPC or GDL courses, as these are Postgraduate Diplomas. However, it is available for Master of Laws (LLM) programmes that contain an integral LPC.

Other funding

Receipt of other sources of postgraduate funding - scholarships, bursaries, studentships, other loans from private providers, etc - will NOT affect eligibility for a postgraduate loan.

Eligible universities

The university you’re studying at must be in the UK and either:

  • publicly funded (paid for by the government), or
  • privately funded but have degree awarding powers

If you’re an EU national and don’t normally live in England, your university must be in England.

Who can apply?

You can apply for a postgraduate loan if you meet the following criteria on nationality, residency, age, and previous study.

Nationality and residency

To apply for a Postgraduate Loan you must:

  • be a UK or EU national or have settled status (this means that there are no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK),
  • normally live in England (ie. not have moved to England purely for the purpose of doing a postgraduate course and receiving a loan), and
  • have been living in the UK for at least three years before the start of your course.

You may also be able to apply for a Postgraduate Loan if you’re:

  • a refugee, or a relative of one,
  • under Humanitarian Protection, or a relative of someone under Humanitarian Protection,
  • an EEA or Swiss migrant worker, or a relative of one,
  • the child of a Swiss national, or
  • the child of a Turkish worker.

If you’re an EU national and have been living in the EEA or Switzerland for at least three years before the start of your course you’ll also be able to apply for a Postgraduate Loan.

If you move within the UK during the course you remain eligible, but if you move outside the UK you will cease to be eligible.

Age

You will have to be aged under 60 before the first day of the first academic year of the programme.

The academic year starts on:

  • 1 September, if your course starts between 1 August and 31 December
  • 1 January, if your course starts between 1 January and 31 March
  • 1 April, if your course starts between 1 April and 30 June
  • 1 July, if your course starts between 1 July and 31 July

Previous study

Having a loan from a previous undergraduate course won’t affect your eligibility for a Postgraduate Loan, unless you have outstanding arrears: you will need to clear these before being eligible.

You can only get a Postgraduate Loan if you don’t already have a postgraduate Master’s qualification or a higher level qualification like a PhD.

If you take a Postgraduate Loan for one course but don’t complete the course you won’t be able to get a second Postgraduate Loan. If you have to repeat a year for compelling personal reasons, such as illness, you may be able to apply for additional funding to allow you to repeat the year.

Multiple applications

You can only make one application for a Postgraduate Loan, ie. the scheme cannot fund multiple Masters degrees. Previous study where no qualification was gained will not be taken into account unless you already had funding for it; you would not be eligible for a second Postgraduate Loan unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances (normally ill health or the death of close family member).

Other issues

Unfitted students are not eligible, ie. those holding a conviction for fraud.

How do I apply?

Loans are fulfilled by the Student Loan Company, and application is via Student Finance England, the same as for undergraduate student loans.

Applications can now be made online through www.gov.uk/postgraduateloan. Paper application forms will be available where required.

The application process will include identity checks in the same way as for undergraduate loan applications, and institutions will be able to track who has applied and been approved for loans. Three years address history will be required.

When can I apply?

The application system opened in June 2016. Apply for a postgraduate student loan here. 

You can apply for a loan up to 9 months after the start of the academic year, ie. you can have already started your course and progressed significantly before applying for a loan. Late applications whilst not guaranteed may be considered on a case-by-case basis, though.

Loan request amounts can be changed up to 1 month before the end of the academic year (ie. you can increase the loan amount up to the £10,000 limit up until the end of your programme).

Find out more about how and when to apply.

How much can I borrow?

The maximum loan amount is £10,000.

How and when do I receive the money?

You need to register on your programme in order to receive payments. Payments will be made once confirmation of study is received from the University, and will be in three instalments per year. Payments will be made directly into your bank account.

The first instalment (33%) will be due on the start date of your programme (typically Monday 18 September in 2017).

The second payment (33%) will be due on the last Wednesday of the fourth month of the programme (typically the end of December, where the first month of the programme is September).

The third payment (34%) will be due on the last Wednesday of the seventh month of the programme (typically the end of March).

What can I spend it on?

The loan is seen as a contribution to the costs of postgraduate study, and is paid directly to you, so you can spend it on whatever you like – tuition fees, accommodation, course books, living expenses.

As payments go directly to you, to receive the loan students will need to provide bank details. However, if a student does not have a UK bank account (for example European students) they can still be approved but will not receive payments until they provide their bank details to the Student Loan Company (you may be required to open a UK bank account).

When do I start paying back?

Repayments are based on your income, not what you borrowed, and you won’t start paying back your loan until you earn over a certain threshold.

The UK threshold is £21,000 (overseas thresholds will be based on price level indices), and thresholds are frozen until April 2021.

Repayments will begin from April 2019 (no repayments will be taken before this date).

The loan is repaid concurrently with any other loans, such as undergraduate loans, you have from the Student Loan Company.

How much will payments be?

Your repayments will be 6% of income over the threshold (£21,000). This table shows how much you can expect to pay back each month, and as an annual total, at several different salary points.

Annual salaryEarnings over £21,000Monthly repaymentAnnual total repayment
£21,000 or less 0 0 0
£25,000 £4,000 £20 £240
£35,000 £14,000 £70 £840
£45,000 £24,000 £120 £1,440
£65,000 £44,000 £220 £2,640

Repayments will change month-to-month if additional income is earned, ie. overtime or bonuses received.

What’s the interest rate?

The interest rate on your Postgraduate Loan will be Retail Price Index (RPI) + 3%. RPI is currently 1.1%. Interest is charged from the day the first payment is made until the loan is repaid in full or written-off.

How are repayments taken?

If you’re employed, your employer will take repayments directly from your salary along with tax and National Insurance. If you stop working or your income drops, your repayments will automatically stop until you’re earning over the threshold again. Your employer will pass your repayments to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) at the end of the tax year.

If you’re self-employed HMRC will tell you how much you need to repay after you’ve completed your Self Assessment tax return.

Can I overpay?

Additional voluntary repayments can be made at any time without penalty.

Can the loans be written-off?

Loans are written-off 30 years after repayments are due, if the borrower dies, or if the borrower is permanently disabled and cannot work due to disability.

If I am applying for a postgraduate loan does this affect my deposit?

If you're applying for a postgraduate loan we will automatically extend your deposit deadline until 31 July 2017, and the deposit amount will be reduced to £250. All you need to do is tell us this is the case. To do so please email pg-ad@exeter.ac.uk with the subject line "PGT loan scheme applicant - deposit extension request".

Please be aware that if you pay £1000 of your deposit and subsequently apply for a postgraduate loan, that the deposit will be non-refundable except in cases that fall within the policy as outlined above.

James Griffiths, an Exeter Business School alumni, recently successfully applied for a postgraduate loan. This is his advice on the application process.

Be thorough and complete

Applications can be held up if there are gaps in the dates. Even if the gaps are for a few days or a period when you were between addresses and you explain why this is, the application requires you to have complete address history for every date in the three year period prior to starting your course. Carefully record your exact address history with specific dates before you begin your application, and if you've moved around a lot have extra sheets of paper ready as the application form only has space for two addresses. Leaving no gaps will ensure that your application gets processed as quickly as possible.

If you’ve been out of the country, be prepared to provide evidence

If you’ve participated in a voluntary programme or study abroad for example then evidence may be required. In my case, it was in the form of a signed letter from the organisation/institution I went abroad with. To speed up the application, write to these in advance asking for written confirmation of your time abroad so that you’re ready should it be requested.

Don’t be put off if you’re not ‘English’ or going to study in England

The loan is for those ordinarily resident in England which doesn’t necessarily mean born and raised. In my case, I studied and then worked in England having grown up elsewhere in the UK. If you’re planning to work for a year after your undergraduate degree to save for your Masters, then consider staying in England to increase the likelihood that you’ll be considered 'ordinarily resident' in England. The loans are also not exclusively for those wishing to study at English institutions, but also those elsewhere in the UK.

Be persistent

There seems to be inconsistency with how loan advice is given in separate parts of the country. This might mean that your application gets passed around and bounced back despite you being told that you’ve done everything you can. Ensure that you’re persistent with contacting them and chase any queries you may have!