After deciding to take up the challenges and opportunities of a postgraduate degree, the next step for most students is working out how to pay for it! Discovering and comparing all the different funding options available to you can be a postgraduate research project in and of itself, so we’ve done our best to help you get started.
This comprehensive guide to funding for Masters degrees covers all of the most important sources of financial support for postgraduate study. You can read about bursaries from the UK Research Councils, funding for study abroad offered by the Erasmus+ Programme and – perhaps most excitingly – the new postgraduate loans and bursaries that are about to be introduced for students in the UK. If that’s not enough we’ve also put together a specific guide to Masters funding in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and covered all sorts of other sources of support, including postgraduate funding from charities (yes, you can receive postgraduate funding from charities!).
So, when we say comprehensive, we mean it (unfortunately, we can’t research your dissertation for you too - sorry).
The good news about Masters degrees is that (in the UK at least) tuition fees are a lot lower than those for most undergraduate programmes. Whilst a Bachelors degree can cost up to £9,000 a year in the UK, the average cost of a full-time Masters is between £5,000 and £6,000 a year (and remember, most Masters programmes are only one or two years long).
However, the bad news is that funding for Masters study is a lot more complex than for undergraduate courses. Until recently, postgraduate students had no access to a full student loans system and had to support themselves through self-funding or by competing for one of a limited number of scholarships and bursaries. Now, with a new system of Masters loans due to be introduced in the UK, the postgraduate funding landscape looks a lot brighter. Even better, all of the other forms of financial support for Masters degrees are still available.
We’ve put together introductions to all of them below. Good hunting!
Lets start with the big one. Beginning in the 2016-17 academic year, the UK government will be introducing a full postgraduate loans system for students at universities across England. Each loan will offer £10,000, to be repaid using an income-contingent scheme once graduates are earning over £21,000 a year. You can read more in our guide to the new postgraduate loans, which also includes a handy overview of repayment costs.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England Postgraduate Support Scheme (or HEFCE PSS, for those of us who like being able to breathe occasionally) is being introduced this year for students enrolling to study a Masters degree. Designed to anticipate the new postgraduate loans system, PSS 2015 also offers £10,000 to students on taught postgraduate programmes. However, unlike the loans, PSS bursaries don’t have to be repaid.
There are going to be 10,000 of them available– that’s 10,000 pretty good reasons to study a Masters this year! You can read more in our online guide to the PSS 2015 bursaries, but we’ve also put together a free downloadable PDF version, with added content including advice from last year’s PSS students and the NUS. Feel free to download a copy and print it out to read at your convenience – or just keep it on your tablet (FindAMasters likes trees!). If all that’s not enough, we’ve also put together a list of the universities where the PSS funding will be available.
Unfortunately, the postgraduate loans and the HEFCE PSS bursaries are currently only going to be available at universities in England. You can still receive a loan or a bursary if you’re from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland (or, indeed, if you’re from any member country of the EU), but you can only do so to study in England. This is all due to the way higher education organisation and funding works in the UK. We could try and explain it, but we’d probably need a Masters in Economics to do so. And another one in Politics.
Of course, there are some great universities in other UK countries and plenty of excellent Masters courses on offer at Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish institutions. That’s why we’ve put together a specific guide to postgraduate funding in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The seven UK Research Councils represent one of the most important sources of postgraduate funding in the UK. It’s their job to provide support for research projects and for the training of potential new researchers – like you!
Though most of their resources are now directed towards PhD programmes, you can still receive Research Council funding for Masters degrees – particularly 1+3 or New Route PhD programmes. These begin with a taught Masters degree in the first year, followed by a 3-year PhD programme. Funding usually covers course fees and a tax-free maintenance grant.
Masters degrees which have the opportunity for research council funding will be advertised as such. You can find a number of these programmes listed at FindAPhD.com. They’ll usually be referred to as ‘4-Year’,’ 1+3’ or ‘New Route PhD Programmes’ and some will include the name of the Research Council in the project title. Check out our guide to Research Council funding for Masters degrees for more information.
You may be surprised to learn that a lot of funding for postgraduate study is actually available from charitable trusts and learned societies. All sorts of organisations are interested in helping promote new research and training in particular fields and, as a talented postgraduate, you could be just the sort of person they’re looking for. Grants from charities and similar organisations tend to be relatively small – between £100 and £1,000 on average – but there’s no reason why you can’t combine lots of them to cover your costs. In fact, this approach to financing postgraduate study has become so popular it’s even got its own name: ‘portfolio funding’. You can learn all about Masters funding from charities and learned societies in our guide to funding Masters study without a scholarship.
One of the best ways of finding Masters funding from charities and other groups (as well as all sorts of other kinds of support) is to use our dedicated postgraduate funding website. It’s called postgraduatefunding.com and it does what it says on the tin. At least, it would if websites came in tins.
Career development loans pre-date the new postgraduate student loans. They’re offered by a number of UK banks and can be a good source of support if you aren’t able to apply for other forms of funding. Repayment requirements can be stricter than those for student loans, but the eligibility criteria may be more relaxed. You’ll need to be under 40 to qualify for a Career Development Loan for postgraduate study, but you can borrow anything between £300 and £10,000. There’s more information available at the UK Government’s website.
With such a variety of postgraduate funding options on offer, it’s important not to overlook the assistance that might be offered by the institution you’re going to study your Masters at. Universities are keen to encourage and support good applicants to their postgraduate programmes and some will have significant financial resources available to help them do this.
Investigating university scholarships for postgraduate funding usually means getting in touch with institutions and asking what kinds of support they offer. However, you can speed this process up by using the course search here at FindaMasters.com – lots of programmes have information on scholarships included in their listings and all of them have contact details available if you need to get in touch with universities for more information (they’ll be very happy to hear from you).
So far most of the postgraduate funding options in this list have been for the UK, but what if you want to study internationally? Well, one of the best sources of funding for postgraduate study abroad is the European Commission’s Erasmus+ programme. Erasmus funding supports students to study in Europe and elsewhere in a number of ways. You can study at multiple universities with a Joint Masters Programme scholarship or you can spend shorter periods of study or training abroad with a Masters Mobility Grant. Beginning in 2015, the Erasmus+ programme will also offer Masters Degree Loans to postgraduate students studying abroad in Europe.
Sticking with the study abroad theme, there are lots of other sources of funding for international postgraduate study. In fact, many countries offer funding schemes that are specifically designed to attract and support foreign students. The best way to investigate these is actually to use our guides to studying a Masters in different countries. Each of them features a section on fees and funding (as well as information on other important things like foreign university systems, immigration requirements, living costs and local beverages). Take a look at our dedicated section on studying a Masters abroad to learn more.
This won’t be applicable to all students, but it can be worth asking an employer about the possibility of support to gain new qualifications. Of course, this is more likely to be successful if your Masters is going to help develop skills that are relevant to your job. Asking for money to study Victorian poetry when you’re actually working in an IT consultancy firm might not be a great idea unless your boss is remarkably generous (or a big fan of Alfred Tennyson).
We’ve mentioned it before, but don’t forget to have a look on our dedicated postgraduate funding website. Most of the funding types mentioned in this article are listed there and you can filter results according to the subject area you’re interested in, the university you want to study at and even the mode of study you’re considering. We haven’t been able to get the search engine to actually print money for you yet, but we’re working on it (we aren’t really – that would be illegal).
And finally, there are our very own FindAMasters scholarships. Each year we give away £12,000 of funding to Masters students in the UK. That’s right – we won’t just help you find out what funding’s available to you: we’ll actually give you some ourselves!
This year there’s one £5,000 scholarship available as well as four £500 scholarships to help students meet some of the costs of postgraduate study. Why not sign up to learn more?