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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 23 Nov '17

Budget 2017 - What Does it Mean for Students?

Over the past few years, the UK Budget has often been a source of important (and sometimes surprising) funding news.

The first announcement of what would become a student loan scheme for Masters degrees was made at the 2014 Autumn Budget* with further updates timed for similar events across 2015 and 2016. PhD loan news has followed a similar pattern, with a system for 2018-19 being confirmed alongside this year's Spring Budget.

My job as the Content Editor for FindAMasters and FindAPhD has therefore come to involve watching the Chancellor of the Exchequer give a long speech twice a year, before rifling through a very long PDF document** looking for postgraduate funding information.

And this week was no exception, with the possibility of an update on the UK's PhD loan plans, or a surprise announcement to follow the changes to student loan repayments revealed in September.

Spoiler alert: we didn't actually get either of those. But there were a few other details that do matter to students, including some new PhD funding.

*OK, back then it was technically called the 'Autumn Statement', but lets not get into the details. They're boring.

**I'm not sure you can actually 'rifle through' a PDF. Unless you print it, which I didn't.

New PhD fellowships

The biggest 'new' news for prospective postgraduates was the announcement of 450 new fellowships for PhD research in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

The exact details of this funding (including the location of opportunities and their application process) have not been revealed. They were announced together with a new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which may have some responsibility for administering fellowships - perhaps alongside existing universities and research centres.

Elsewhere in the Budget, the Government announced further funding for broader research and development activities (R&D). This may also involve increased funding for PhD researchers in target areas, as part of the Government's wider Industrial Strategy.

We'll be keeping an eye on these developments, with further information in our newsletter as and when it's available.

New visas for highly-skilled students and graduates

In addition to funding research and development, the Government is also seeking to attract and retain top researchers. Which makes sense, really.

Accordingly, the Budget announces that the Government will 'make it quicker for highly-skilled students to apply to work in the UK after finishing their degrees'. The Budget itself is not particularly clear what this means, but further reporting from Times Higher Education suggests it will involve at least two components:

  • The wait time for existing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa will be reduced from five to three years. This is more likely to benefit established researchers, but could apply to some especially promising PhD students.
  • The system for transferring from a Tier 4 (Student Visa) to a Tier 2 (Skilled Worker Visa) will become more flexible. Students will be able to apply as soon as they finish studying for their degree, rather than waiting until the qualification is awarded.

The second change could be especially beneficial for postgraduates (particularly Masters students), who will be able to begin a visa application whilst their dissertations are being examined, rather than waiting until the eventual award of their degree.

The changes may arrive as soon as spring 2018.

Reducing student loan overpayments

Finally, the Budget includes a commitment to improve the handling of student loan repayments by the Student Loans Company and ensure graduates don't 'overpay' when no payment is due.

This policy isn't postgraduate-specific, but it will go on to benefit those with Masters and (eventually) PhD loans.

So, what about PhD loans?

The Government has already confirmed its plans for PhD loans at this year's Spring Budget, but it seemed plausible that further details might be announced this week. Partly because some questions (such as EU eligibility) still require an answer. And partly because there's been some reference to postgraduate finance in every Budget since 2014

In the end, this Autumn Budget broke that trend. We don't know anything more about the upcoming doctoral loans system than we did last week.

It's likely that the next time we hear anything significant about this scheme will be in Spring 2018, but that's OK. With the exception of EU eligibility (which is wrapped up in issues related to Brexit) we already know most of the key details for PhD loans - including the fact that they're coming in time for 2018-19.

Of course, as soon as more information does arrive, we'll update you.

For now, that was Budget 2017 for students and prospective postgraduates. Exciting, wasn't it?




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