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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 10 Oct '17

UK Tuition Fee Changes - Will They Mean Anything for Postgraduates?

Update: we'd hoped that changes to student loan repayment thresholds would also apply to postgraduates. It now looks like this won't be the case. This article has been edited to reflect the latest announcements.

University fees have been in and out of the UK news for much of 2017. Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party pledged to abolish them and, though the policy may not have won the election, it raised an issue that mattered to huge numbers of young voters.

Now, the Conservative Government has taken steps to address some of these concerns. This week the Prime Minister revealed plans to cap undergraduate tuition fees at £9,250 and raise the student loan repayment threshold. Theresa May also announced a 'major' university funding and finance review.

All of this is hugely important to students, but does it apply to postgraduates? The answer is 'yes'. And 'no'.

Let's take a quick look.

Raising student loan repayment thresholds

We'll start with something that's definitely good news for all students with undergraduate loans:

From the 6th of April 2018, the Government will raise its student loan repayment threshold from £21,000 to £25,000 per year. That means that graduates will be able to earn more before they start paying back their loans and will make repayments on less of their overall income.

The change will save you up to £360 a year (if you have a post-2012 'Plan 2' loan). This is because you'll now be able to 'bank' an extra £4,000 that would otherwise have been subject to a 9% annual deduction (9% of £4,000 is £360).

What about postgraduates?

Unfortunately, this change doesn't apply to postgraduate loans. The Government has confirmed that Masters degree loans (in England) will still be repayable at 6% of income over £21,000 a year.

This means that you'll make postgraduate loan repayments earlier than undergraduate loan repayments.

But the news isn't all bad. Postgraduates with two student loans will still benefit from the rise in the undergraduate repayment threshold. Under the earlier system you'd have repaid your undergraduate loan (at 9% of income over £21,000) and your postgraduate loan (at 6%). Now you'll only make the smaller postgraduate loan repayment (until you earn over £25,000).

It's also possible that the change to undergraduate loans could set a precedent for a future postgraduate threshold rise. We'll be the first to update you if so.

What about other UK countries?

Repayments work slightly differently across the UK:

  • Scotland and Northern Ireland take 'earlier' loan repayments at 9% of income over £17,775 and combine undergraduate and postgraduate debt.
  • Wales models its postgraduate repayments on the English system, but would need to make a separate decision to increase thresholds.

Our guide to Masters loan repayments provides a more detailed explanation of the different systems.

What about PhD loans?

England plans to introduce doctoral student loans from 2018, with a similar repayment system to its Masters loans (6% of income over £21,000).

It now seems unlikely that this repayment threshold will be raised. We'll know more once the system is closer to being introduced - and make sure you do too.

Fee caps

The Government is also planning on capping undergraduate tuition fees for the time being. This isn't quite as exciting as it might sound. Fees aren't being lowered; they're just not increasing above £9,250. Yet.

This is also of little significance to postgraduates, because those fees aren't directly controlled by the UK Government. The amount you'll pay for a Masters is decided by your university. On the plus side, they're often quite a bit less than £9,250. The same is broadly true for the cost of a PhD.

That big fee and funding review

Last and with least detail: the proposed 'major review of university funding and student finance'.

We don't yet know quite what this will involve, but nor does anybody else (except perhaps the Government themselves).

It's likely to include a reappraisal of the current tuition fees system, possibly leading to changes in the prices charged in different subject areas. We don't really know yet.

This could lead to a similar reconsideration of postgraduate fees, particularly now the Government is investing in Masters and PhD student loans. We don't really know yet.

But, once we do know, we'll tell you.

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