Postgraduate Loans in Northern Ireland 2020
Not sure if your budget can stretch to a master's degree? We take a look at the Student Finance available to postgraduate students in Northern Ireland – minus the jargon.
Doing a postgraduate course like a master's degree is a great way to enhance your knowledge on a subject you're passionate about, and it looks great on your CV.
But, there's no denying that in Northern Ireland, the Student Finance package for postgraduate degrees isn't quite 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 need to meet the specific eligibility criteria to get anything at all. Here, we'll go through it all step-by-step so you know exactly what funding you can, and can't, receive.
What's in this guide?
Eligibility for Northern Ireland postgraduate finance
Here are the main eligibility criteria for the postgraduate Student Loan in Northern Ireland:
Where you live
The residency requirements for postgraduate Student Finance in Northern Ireland are the same as for undergraduate students:
• 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.
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.
The course you want to study
Postgraduate courses come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and not all are eligible for Student Finance.
To be eligible for the postgraduate Student Loan, you must meet these course criteria:
• 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
If you're from Northern Ireland, you can apply for the postgraduate finance package from Student Finance NI 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 students in Northern Ireland
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.
Previously, the Tuition Fee Loan had an annual cap so that in a two-year course you'd receive up to £2,750 each year, or in a three-year course, you'd receive up to £1,833 a year.
However, from 2020/21, the annual cap's being removed for new and continuing students so you'll be able to choose how much of the £5,500 loan to access each year.
How to cover postgraduate living costs in Northern Ireland
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 the best ways to cover living costs during your master's degree:
- 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!
- Study part-time and work a job at the same time to cover your living expenses.
- If your course is work-related, you could get a company to sponsor you. This way, you might secure your dream master's and dream job in one fell swoop.
- Seek out a bursary or scholarship – this is free money to cover study costs, but they can be competitive and there are strict criteria.
- Live at home – this won't cover all of your living expenses, but is likely much cheaper than paying rent to a landlord, even if your parents do charge you to stay with them.
Disabled Students' Allowance for master's students
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.
How to apply for postgraduate Student Finance in Northern Ireland
You apply for the postgraduate loan online at Student Finance NI, and the process is pretty simple:
- Complete an application form online, or download a paper form and post it (you'll need to submit a form each academic year of your course).
- 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.
- Student Finance NI will check your application and the evidence you provided to establish your eligibility.
- 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.
Repaying your postgraduate Student Loan
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 £19,390 a year, £1,615 per month or £372 per week (before tax).
- Your payments will come out of your salary automatically – unless you're self-employed, in which case you'll need to submit a self-assessment tax return.
- Your loan will start accruing interest before you've even left your course – the rate is currently 1.1%.
- 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. This is because the loan will be written off after 25 years and any money you haven't paid back will be wiped.
Once you've got your Student Finance sorted, it's time to find your new accommodation – make sure you know what to look for when viewing properties.