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Widening the scope for Masters loans

Daniel Hurley

Dan Hurley

Programme Manager
Universities UK

At the Spending Review, government confirmed its commitment to providing loans of up to £10,000 for English-domiciled (and other EU) postgraduate Masters students from 2016–17.

What’s more, some significant revisions to the original loan proposal mean that a substantially higher number of people will now be able to access financial support as they take up Masters study and develop the high-level skills our economy increasingly needs.

Perhaps most importantly (and most headline-grabbing), is that government has increased the age cap for the loans, making them available to all those under 60 (compared to the original proposal of 30), mirroring eligibility for undergraduate maintenance loans in England.

But there have been more positive developments outside of the age proposal. Further details of how the loan eligibility criteria have expanded since the public consultation are detailed below:

Eligibility criteriaOriginal proposalRevised proposal
AgeStudents under the age of 30 can access a loanStudents under the age of 60 can now access a loan
PortabilityLoans can only be used at certain institutions in England
Loans can also be used at institutions in Scotland,
Wales
and Northern Ireland
Institution typeLoans can be used for study at HEFCE-fundable institutions and Alternative Providers with Degree Awarding PowersLoans can be used for study at Authority Funded Institutions or Alternative Providers with Degree Awarding Powers across the UK
Course delivery
Only courses delivered
on site
are eligible
Courses delivered via distance learning are now also eligible
Course typePostgraduate taught Masters courses onlyResearch Masters on entry now also included


Since the start of the consultation in March, Universities UK had raised three substantive concerns around the proposed loan eligibility criteria. These related to: the age cap; a lack of loan portability across UK borders, and a restriction of loans to students with at least 50% intensity of study. Taking these points in turn:

  • Age – UUK welcomes government’s recognition that restricting loans to those under 30 would be problematic. Our members believed strongly that the original proposal would not have been in the wider UK economic interest, and would be potentially discriminatory. Access to finance is an issue faced by many, and not just those aged under 30. In the current labour market, graduates need the ability to adapt to change, which often implies a need to up-skill or re-skill. With demographics in the UK shifting, and people working for longer, demand from older cohorts will only increase, and the decision to increase the age cap goes a long way to address this demand.
  • Portability – UUK also welcomes government’s recognition that both competition and quality should remain key drivers in the postgraduate market. With this in mind, equality of access across UK borders is vital, and providing eligible students with the ability to take a Masters loan and study at an institution anywhere in the UK (and not just in England) is in the wider UK’s economic interest.
  • Intensity of study – It is encouraging that distance learning courses are now in scope, especially considering that there is an increasing demand for flexible modes of course delivery at Masters level. However, with widening participation at PGT level now increasingly coming into focus, it is incredibly important that the restriction on part-time student eligibility to 50% intensity does not disproportionately affect students who require a certain degree of flexibility when learning – perhaps because their family, childcare or other personal circumstances mean studying over longer periods is their only option.

With widening participation in mind, HEFCE analysis already shows that undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to progress to postgraduate taught study than those from more affluent backgrounds:


 

It is therefore vital that, as the loan scheme is implemented, levels of demand from under-represented groups are closely monitored.

Time-scales for implementation are tight. In light of this, in the coming months, UUK will be working with BIS, HEFCE and others to ensure that the new loans work to help remove one of the most significant barriers to postgraduate study ­– access to finance; and work towards ensuring that those with the ambition to take up Masters study are able to do so.

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