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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 10 Jan '19

Planning Postgrad Study in 2019 - What You Need to Know

So, you're thinking about postgraduate study this year. This is a fairly safe assumption for me to make, given the website you're on. But what assumptions can you safely make as you commit to another university degree?

Things are looking fairly 'interesting' for UK students (and universities) at the moment. There's a major review of fees and funding due to report any week now and Brexit is also due to make some big changes to student mobility (we're just not quite sure what).

On the plus side, postgraduate loans are here to stay and new data suggests further study can be a fairly good investment in career terms.

This post runs through some of the things you might be thinking about (or should be thinking about) if you're considering a Masters or PhD in 2019. You don't absolutely need to know all of this stuff, but it will probably be helpful if you do.

Fees aren't (really) changing

To say that UK tuition fees are slightly controversial isn't a very controversial statement. That's why the government is reviewing them.

There have been plenty of headlines following supposed 'leaks' from this review, with suggestions that fees could be cut, access to loans could be based on A-Level results, students could be charged extra to bring bags into lecture theatres, people could be prevented from studying anything other than Economics, graduation gowns could carry sponsorship from major international beverage manufacturers, and so on.*

But what about postgraduate courses I hear imagine you saying? Well, there's good and bad news.

The cost of a Masters will probably go up this year, and so will the cost of a PhD. But only because they do anyway. Universities have a lot more freedom to set their own rates for Masters programmes. The same is true for PhDs, where the amount is generally based on what the UK Research Councils will fund.

So, for next year you're probably looking at around £7,000-8,000 for a classroom-based taught Masters (more for some more expensive professional courses such as MBAs and law degrees) and around £4,000-5,000 for a PhD.

This is all a way of saying that, turbulent as the fees situation seems to be in the UK right now, it's probably not going to have an immediate impact on what you pay for postgraduate courses. Should I need to eat my words I will do so via our newsletter.

*Two and a half of those are real. Can you guess which ones?

Funding is changing, but it's mostly good news

Last year got us one step closer to a UK postgraduate loan 'full house' as England and Wales allowed students to borrow up to £25,000 towards the cost of a PhD.

This year the value of those doctoral loans is going up and so is that of the Masters loan - at least in England.

It isn't quite as clear what's happening elsewhere. Scotland and Northern Ireland already have their own postgraduate loan systems for degrees up to Masters level. They haven't really changed these since first introducing them in 2017 and, there's no real reason to expect a big shake-up for 2019. We'll make sure you know if that changes.

Wales is changing its Masters funding to a combination of loans and grants, some of which will be means-tested. It should mean students get at least the same level of support and potentially borrow less. Again, we'll keep you posted.

Major changes to PhD funding aren't very likely, but the big players aren't going anywhere. You'll still be able to apply for Research Council studentships (though you should probably have done so by now for 2019-20 projects). And, as I mentioned above, the value of the doctoral loan is going up. A bit.

2019 will see the end of one venerable postgraduate funding scheme, however, as we say farewell to Career Development Loans: the postgraduate loan's grumpy, slightly less generous older brother, who wants to see your bank statements and credit score. 25 January is the deadline to apply for these.

Brexit continues to mean [. . .]

I've been writing about the possible impact of Brexit on postgraduate students since before the referendum in 2016, including immediate reaction to the result followed by many, many updates to our FAQ. Someone has to, I guess.

Now, with less than two months to go until the UK leaves(?) the EU, I still don't know exactly what's going to happen in terms of fees, funding and student mobility within Europe. And neither, it seems, does anybody else.

The one thing I can stress is that nothing much is changing in the UK for courses starting in 2019-20. So, if you're an EU student thinking about a UK Masters or PhD this coming year, you can absolutely do that. You'll pay the same fees as a British postgraduate, you'll have access to postgraduate loans in the same way you would have before and you won't be classed as an 'international student'.

Things are a little less clear for UK students thinking about studying abroad in Europe. Because the UK will have left the EU on 29 March (as things stand) it's probably best not to assume that nothing will have changed when you go to start a course in September. We'll be doing our best to make sense of what individual 'EU 27' countries have planned but, in the meantime, I'd really recommend contacting European universities and checking with them.

One thing that isn't changing immediately as a result of Brexit is the UK's involvement in Erasmus. That's confirmed until at least 2020 (the end of the current Erasmus+ funding cycle). In principle your ability to apply for Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters degrees (or the MSCA-funded PhD projects that are their doctoral equivalent, funded as part of Horizon 2020) isn't changing yet.

If it's worth it to you, then it's worth it

You may well be thinking about postgraduate study this year, but that doesn't mean you're definitely decided on it - or that you necessarily have to be in January.

Granted, you'll probably want to be making your mind up about a PhD fairly soon, unless you're proposing your own topic and funding deadlines aren't an issue yet. You've got time to be thinking about a Masters though and one of the factors you might be considering is how much difference that extra degree is going to make to your career prospects or earnings.

These aren't the only reasons to study a Masters, but it is perfectly legitimate to be thinking about them. Which is why we recently did.

At the end of the day though, you'll know if postgraduate study is something you want to take on. I'm certainly not going to tell you that you should definitely study a Masters or PhD and neither is anyone else writing for this website. But. . .

We'll be here (and there) to help

We want you to find the right Masters course or PhD project, but we also want to make sure you have the other information you need to make a decision about postgraduate study this year (or after).

One way we do that is through this blog, through the advice sections of this website and through our newsletter.

But we're also going a little further in January and February as our Postgrad LIVE! study fairs head around the UK.

They're all free and they all feature a range of expert talks providing advice on postgraduate applications, study options and funding, plus there's the chance to speak face-to-face with a range of universities. Basically, it's like taking the FindAMasters and FindAPhD websites. . . live. I'll be along (also live) and will be happy to help answer questions in person, take suggestions for topics you'd like to see covered here on the website or discuss the progress of Sheffield Wednesday's 18-19 season (I'd suggest we stick with the first two options, to be honest).

You may also like...

UK postgrad loans - updates for 2019

Considering getting a student loan for your Masters or PhD? Get up to date with the latest changes.

Brexit and postgrad study - our ongoing FAQ

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, we'll be explaining what it means for students considering postgraduate study in the UK and Europe.

Why Europe is still a great choice for postgrad study

Brexit may look large, but there are still plenty of reasons to consider Europe for a Masters or PhD next year. Here are six of them.