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Student Finance

Postgraduate Loans in Northern Ireland 2019

Not sure if your budget can stretch to a master's degree? We take a look at the Student Finance available to students in Northern Ireland – minus the jargon.

Northern Ireland university students

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A master's degree or another postgraduate course can be a great way to enhance your knowledge on a subject you're passionate about, and it'll look great on your CV.

But there's no denying that in Northern Ireland, the Student Finance package for postgraduate degrees is not as generous as undergraduate support.

While you can expect a chunk of money to help cover your tuition fees, you won't get anything for your living costs – and you'll have to meet the specific eligibility criteria to get anything at all.

This guide will take you through it all step-by-step so you know exactly what you can, and can't, get your hands on.

This guide is for postgraduate Student Finance in Northern Ireland only – we've also got guides to funding your master's in England, Wales and Scotland.

Eligibility for Northern Ireland postgraduate finance

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Whether or not you're qualified to apply for postgraduate Student Finance in Northern Ireland is dependent on a few different factors. Let us take you through them one by one:

Where you live

The residency requirements for postgraduate StudentFfinance in Northern Ireland are the same as undergraduate. If you tick all the boxes below, you're in:

  • You must be living in Northern Ireland on the first day of the first academic year of your course
  • You must have been living in the UK or islands for at least three years prior to that date and have 'settled status' (there are no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK).

If you don't fit the above, there are many exceptions to the rule – for instance for refugees in the UK, EU nationals and their children. If you're unsure, contact Student Finance NI for more information.

Previous study

You can apply for a Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan even if you already have a postgraduate degree of an equivalent level or higher.

However, crucially you can't apply if you have already received postgraduate Student Finance from any government authority in the UK. This applies even if your new course is a higher level than the first, and even if you didn't take the full loan available first time around.

This means, for example, that if Student Finance England funded your previous postgraduate course, you can't now apply for funding from Student Finance NI.

We have a full guide to undergraduate Student Finance in Northern Ireland too!

The course you want to study

Postgraduate courses come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and not all are eligible for Student Finance.

In a nutshell:

  • Your course needs to be a postgraduate certificate, postgraduate diploma, taught master's or research-based master's
  • You must study at a public university in the UK
  • You can study full-time, part-time or via distance learning
  • The course can last no longer than three years.

Courses that are not covered include Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE), Master of Architecture (MArch) and Integrated master’s degrees – you can apply for undergraduate Student Finance for these. PhD study is also not covered.

Where you want to study

You can apply for the postgraduate finance package no matter where in the UK you want to study - you don't have to study in Northern Ireland.

However, remember that tuition fee rates vary across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and if your Tuition Fee Loan doesn't cover the full amount, you'll have to make up the rest yourself.

In England, for instance, most master's courses cost the best part of £10,000, if not more. And because, as we're about to explain, the maximum Tuition Fee Loan is far less than this, you may find yourself needing to fund the rest of the fees yourself.

Tuition Fee Loan for master's in Northern Ireland

Students in a lecture hall with notes

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If you meet all the eligibility requirements above, you'll be able to apply for a loan of up to £5,500 to go towards the cost of your tuition fees. And compared to other Student Finance packages, it really is pretty simple!

These are the key things to know about the Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan:

  • You cannot receive more than the course fees charged by your university or college
  • It is not based on your household income – all students receive the same
  • It is paid directly to your university or college – you won't get to see it at all.

If your course lasts more than one year, you'll still receive the same amount of money – it'll just be spread out across multiple years. So if your course lasts two years, you'll receive £2,750 a year, and if it's three years, you'll get £1,833 a year.

How to cover postgraduate living costs in Northern Ireland

supermarket shopping

The main flaw with postgraduate Student Finance in Northern Ireland is that there is no provision for living costs – so you need to think about how you're going to cover rent, bills, food, course textbooks and having an actual social life for the year.

Here are a few different options you might want to consider:

  1. Take a year out in between your undergraduate degree and postgraduate degree to work full-time and save up some money – there's no rush to get your master's!
  2. Study part-time and work a job at the same time to cover your living expenses
  3. Seek out a bursary or scholarship – this is free money to cover study costs, but they can be competitive and there are strict criteria
  4. If your course is work-related, you could get a company to sponsor you. You could secure your dream master's and dream job in one fell swoop!
  5. Live at home – this won't cover all your living expenses, but is likely much cheaper than paying rent to a landlord, even if your parents do charge you board.
To give you an idea of how much student living costs are, we've put together a list of what students at each university spend in an average month!

Disabled Students' Allowance

Along with the Tuition Fee Loan, some students can also apply for Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) to help cover extra course costs they have as a direct result of their disability, long-term health condition, mental health condition or specific learning difficulty.

This comes in one lump sum of up to £10,469 but it can only be used to cover certain things, such as specialist equipment, non-medical helpers, extra travel costs or other course-related costs.

How much you get is not dependent on your household income, but it does depend on an individual needs assessment to determine exactly what support you'll need.

Full-time and part-time students are eligible for DSA but EU students are not.

How to apply for postgraduate Student Finance in Northern Ireland

woman using laptop

You apply online at Student Finance Northern Ireland, and the process is pretty simple:

  1. Submit an application form online, or download a paper form and post it
  2. You'll have to submit some evidence to prove your identity and help them to check whether you're eligible for Student Finance. You can send your passport or a birth/adoption certificate along with a declaration form – and these must be the real documents, not photocopies. They'll be returned to you once the process is complete
  3. Student Finance NI will check your application and the evidence you provided to establish your eligibility
  4. The Student Loans Company will write to you to let you know whether you're eligible. If you are, the money will be paid directly to your university or college.

You should always apply for Student Finance before your course starts, but the absolute final deadline for applying is nine months after the first day of the first year of your course.

Repaying your postgraduate Student Loan

graduate piggy bank calculator

Your postgraduate Student Loan will be added on to any previous Student Loan provided by Student Finance Northern Ireland and you'll pay them off together as one lump sum – as scary as it seems, repaying is simple and always in line with your income.

Student Loans in Northern Ireland are classed as Plan 1 loans - here are the main repayment conditions:

  • You start repaying your loan the April after you've finished your course
  • You pay back 9% of anything you earn over the threshold – currently £18,935 a year, £1,578 per month or £364 per week (before tax)
  • Your payments will come out of your salary automatically – unless you're self-employed, in which case you'll have to submit a self-assessment tax return
  • Your loan will start accruing interest before you've even left your course – the rate is currently 1.75%
  • You can make extra payments at any time, in order to pay off the loan quicker - but we wouldn't recommend this, as chances are you won't have to pay it all back anyway. Why's that?
  • Because the loan will be written off after 30 years - any money you haven't paid back will be wiped!
We've got loads more detail on how Plan 1 Student Loan repayments work in our complete guide!

Once you've got your Student Finance sorted, it's time to decide where you're going to live! Make sure you know what to look for, and don't forget to organise your bills.

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