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Irish castle

2017 Postgraduate Loans in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has introduced new postgraduate loans for courses beginning in the 2017-18 academic year. These loans have been confirmed and applications are now open.

If you're a Northern Irish student you may be able to borrow up to £5,500 towards the cost of tuition fees for a Masters degree, Postgraduate Certificate or Postgraduate Diploma at any UK university.

EU students are also be eligible for a tuition fee loan to study in Northern Ireland in 2017 - this is unaffected by Brexit.

We've put together a full guide to the Northern Irish postgraduate loans, with answers to any questions you may have.


Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland - full details
What? Student loans for taught and research postgraduate courses in all subjects.
How much? Up to £5,500 for tuition fees.
Who? UK nationals ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland / EU students studying in Northern Ireland.
Where? Any UK university.
When? Loans are available for courses starting on or after 1st August 2017 and applications are now open.
Repayment? 9% of earnings over £17,775 per year, with postgraduate and undergraduate debt combined.

Student eligibility


Key details:

Northern Irish postgraduate loans are available to UK nationals, ordinarily resident in the UK and most recently resident in Northern Ireland (not for purposes of study). EU, EEA and Swiss students may also be eligible for a loan to study in Northern Ireland.


What if I have lived outside the UK in the last three years?

Temporary absences from the UK (for travel or education) will not affect your eligibility. Longer periods of settled residence and work in other countries may be an issue. You may wish to discuss these with Student Finance Northern Ireland when you apply.

What counts as being most recently resident in Northern Ireland?

You must be a UK national, permanently resident in Northern Ireland when you apply for a loan. You do not have to study at a Northern Irish university, but you must be moving from Northern Ireland to study elsewhere in the UK as a postgraduate.

Will the location of my undergraduate studies affect my residency?

Residency that is purely for the purpose of study is regarded as separate from your 'ordinary' residency. This means that:

  • Students from elsewhere in the UK who have studied an undergraduate degree in Northern Ireland will not be eligible. Their most recent permanent residence will still be the country they arrived to study from.
  • Students from Northern Ireland who have studied an undergraduate degree elsewhere in the UK will be eligible. Their most recent permanent residence will still be their 'home' address in Northern Ireland.

Exceptions will apply if you have remained to live and work in your country of study, after completing an undergraduate degree. You may then be regarded as most recently resident there.

Are other loans available for students from Scotland, England or Wales?

Yes. All parts of the UK are expected to have their own postgraduate loans in place in time for the 2017-18 academic year:

  • England introduced the UK's first Masters loans in 2016. The value of these is rising from £10,000 to £10,280 in 2017.
  • Scotland has introduced postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 for 2017.
  • Wales has introduced postgraduate student loans of up to £10,280 in 2017.

What are the eligibility criteria for EU students?

EU students may be able receive a loan to study a postgraduate course in Northern Ireland provided they have been ordinarily resident in the EU, EEA or Switzerland for three years.

EEA and Swiss students are also eligible, provided they (or a family member) have the status of a migrant worker in the UK.

Will EU eligibility be affected by Brexit?

Not initially. Northern Ireland (along with the rest of the UK) has protected EU students from fee and funding changes for the duration of courses beginning in the 2017-18 academic year.

This means you can receive a postgraduate loan to study in Northern Ireland as an EU student next year.

Future eligibility will depend on the terms of the UK's Brexit negotiations. You can stay updated with our regular postgraduate newsletter.

Are other international students eligible?

Students from outside the UK, EU, EEA and Switzerland may be eligible for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan if one or more of the following apply:

  • You have refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK.
  • You have the permanent right to live in the UK for another reason.
  • You are the child of a Turkish worker.

Other international students on standard Tier 4 visas will not normally be eligible. However, you should contact Student Finance Northern Ireland if you think an exception may apply in your case.

Is there an age limit for the Northern Irish postgraduate loans?

No. You do not have to be under 60 in order to be eligible for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan. You can apply at any age.

What if I already have a Masters or other postgraduate course?

Existing qualifications will not affect your eligibility for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan. You can also apply for a loan to 'upgrade' an existing postgraduate course.

This means that:

  • You can apply for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan if you already have a Masters degree (or other level 7 postgraduate qualification).
  • You can apply for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan if you have a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma and wish to convert this to a full Masters through futher study.

These arrangements are more flexible than those introduced for other UK Masters loans, which normally exclude applicants with existing Masters degrees.

However, you can still only receive one Northern Irish postgraduate loan. If your previous course was also loan-funded, you will not be eligible. This normally applies whether or not you completed your programme (see below).

Can I apply for a second or subsequent loan?

Under normal circumstances you can only take out one postgraduate loan. Exceptions may apply if you fail to complete a course due to unforseen circumstances and have compelling personal reasons for starting again.

Can I combine this loan with other funding?

Yes, the Northern Irish postgraduate loans can be combined other funding and finance, including the following:

However, you cannot have more than one student loan at the same time. This means you cannot receive a postgraduate loan whilst still receiving an undergraduate loan.

Postgraduate loans are also unavailable for courses that already receive their own complete government funding, such as PGCE qualifications or integrated Masters degrees.

Can I apply if I am already studying a postgraduate course when the loans are introduced?

No. These loans will only be available to new students, beginning a Masters (or other eligible postgraduate course) on or after 1st August 2017.

Course eligibility


Key details:

Loans will be available for Northern-Irish-resident-students to study postgraduate courses at universities in the UK. They will not be restricted by subject area and will be available for part-time and distance learning courses.


Will loans be available for MBAs?

Yes. There are no subject restrictions currently planned for Northern Irish postgraduate loans. Master of Business Administration (MBA) courses and other specialised Masters degrees will be eligible.

However, you should be aware that the fees for an MBA programme will probably be much higher than the maximum loan amount of £5,500. You will not be able to borrow extra for more expensive courses.

Will loans be available for Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) and Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) courses?

Yes. Unlike England and Wales, Northern Ireland will offer loans for most courses up to Masters level - including PGCert and PGDip qualifications.

Note that these shorter courses may cost less than a full Masters degree, in which case the amount you can borrow will be capped accordingly.

Will loans be available for postgraduate research Masters qualifications such as MRes and MPhil degrees?

Yes. Northern Ireland will offer postgraduate loans for taught and research courses. This means you will be able to take out a loan for a Master of Research (MRes) or Master of Philosophy (MPhil) course.

Note that an MPhil will only be eligible as a standalone course. You will not be able to take out a postgraduate loan for a a PhD programme that begins with MPhil registration.

This is because PhD programmes are not yet eligible for postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland (see below).

Will loans be available for PhDs?

Not immediately. The Northern Irish postgraduate loans confirmed for 2017-18 are only for courses up to Masters level.

However, Northern Ireland is also considering a separate postgraduate research loans scheme, similar to the PhD loans being introduced for English students in 2018. There is no timescale for this at present, but you can stay updated via our newsletter.

Will loans be available for Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) programmes?

No. Separate support is already available for Northern Irish students to study Initial Teacher Training (ITT) qualifications such as PGCE or PGDE courses.

More information is available on the NI Direct website.

Where can I study?

Eligible UK students can use a Northern Irish postgraduate loan to study an eligible course at any UK university (the loans are portable).

Students from outside the UK must study in Northern Ireland.

Can my course include an overseas placement?

Yes, but this cannot account for more than 50% of your course. Loans aren't available for full programmes of postgraduate study abroad. However, other funding alternatives such as Erasmus Masters loans are available.

How long can my course be?

Northern Irish postgraduate loans will be available for courses lasting up to three years. Note that this is slightly less than the four years allowed for English loans.

There is no minimum course length: Postgraduate Certificate and Postgraduate Diploma courses which last less than a year will still be eligible.

Are part-time courses eligible?

Yes. You can study part-time for up to three years. Your loan amount will evenly divided across each year of your course.

Can I study by distance learning?

Yes, but your programme must be delivered by a UK university and you must be resident in Northern Ireland.

Loan amount


Key details:

Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland will cover tuition fees up to £5,500 per course. Unlike the English loans they will not be available for separate living costs and will be paid directly to universities.


How will the loans be paid?

Your loan will be paid to your university by the Student Loans Company in three instalments during each academic year. You will not receive any money directly into your own bank account.

Are the loans means tested?

No. Provided you are eligible to borrow in the first place you will be able to borrow up to £5,500 for tuition fees, regardless of your financial circumstances or background.

What is the minimum loan amount?

You can borrow anything between £1 and £5,500, but only for postgraduate tuition fees.

What if my course costs less than £5,500?

The maximum amount of your loan will be capped at the level of tuition fees for your course. You will not receive any extra money if this is less than If this is less than £5,500.

For example, if your postgraduate degree only costs £4,000, this will be the maximum amount paid to your university. The 'remaining' £1,000 will not be paid to your university or to you.

Do I have to borrow the full value of my tuition fees?

No, you can borrow less than the cost of your course if you prefer.

What if my course costs more than £5,500?

£5,500 is the maximum amount you will be able to borrow with a Northern Irish postgraduate loan. The amount is based on average course fees for postgraduate programmes in Northern Ireland.

You can still receive a loan if your course costs over £5,500, but you won't be able to borrow extra. Instead you will need to pay the rest of your fees yourself, or seek additional funding.

What if I study outside Northern Ireland?

You can receive a Northern Irish loan to study a postgraduate course anywhere in the UK. However, the maximum amount you can borrow will still be capped at £5,500 for tuition fees. If a course in England, Scotland or Wales is more expensive than this you will have to meet the extra costs yourself.

How do loans work for part-time students?

Northern Irish loans will be available for part-time postgraduate courses lasting up to three years.

If you decide to study part-time your loan will be spread out across each year of your course. This means that you will be able to borrow up to:

  • £2,750 in each year of a two-year course.
  • £1,833 in the first two years of a three-year course (with £1,834 in the final year).

The money will be paid directly to your institution, in exactly the same way as it would for a full-time course.

How do loans work for distance-learning students?

Northern Irish loans are also planned for distance-learning courses, provided they are offered by a university within the UK and you are resident within the UK whilst studying.

If your course is part-time it will be subject to the criteria described above.

Why are loans for Northern Irish students worth less than those for English, Welsh and Scottish students?

These loans are an extension of the Northern Irish undergraduate loans, rather than a completely separate system.

If you already have a student loan for your undergraduate degree, you will simply add to the amount you have already borrowed. This means that you can borrow less overall, but your repayments will be more manageable.

Other UK countries have taken different approaches to postgraduate loans. England and Wales both offer up to £10,280 as a 'contribution to costs'. Scotland offers a £5,500 tuition-fee loan with a further £4,500 for living costs.

Repayments


Key details:

Repayments for postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland will be integrated into the country's existing student loan system. Undergraduate and postgraduate debt will be combined, with a deduction from your salary each month, based on your annual income.


What will the repayment rate be for postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland?

You will repay your postgraduate loan at 9% of income over £17,775. This means that you will only repay when you are earning over £17,775 a year and will only repay 9% of what you earn over this threshold.

Repayments will be automatically deducted from your monthly salary along with income tax and National Insurance. If you are self-employed you will make repayments as part of your annual self assessment and tax return.

How do undergraduate and postgraduate loan repayments work?

If you already have an undergraduate loan from Student Finance Northern Ireland your postgraduate loan will be combined with it. You will make one repayment of 9% of income over £17,775 towards both loans.

Note that this is different to the system used for Masters loans in England and Wales, where undergraduate and postgraduate repayments are concurrent.

What if I don't have an undergraduate loan?

Your postgraduate loan will then be a new (smaller) debt amount, repaid on the same terms as combined undergraduate and postgraduate loans: 9% of income over £17,775.

When will repayments begin?

You will begin repaying your Northern Irish postgraduate loan in the April after you graduate from your course - provided you are earning over £17,775.

Will there be any interest?

Yes. Your postgraduate loan will be subject to interest. This will begin accruing once the first loan payment is made to you. Current interest rates for Northern Irish postgraduate loans are 1.25% (the same as other 'Plan 1' undergraduate loans in Northern Ireland - and Scotland).

Can repayment terms change?

Yes, some aspects of your postgraduate loan repayment terms can change. These include the interest charged on your loan balance (which may be linked to inflation) and the threshold at which you repay (which will be reviewed in April each year). However, your loan will remain income-contingent.

Do I have to repay the full loan?

Yes. The Northern Irish postgraduate loans assume that students will use their qualifications to boost their earning power and eventually repay their student loan debt in full.

However, you will only make repayments whilst you are earning over the £17,775 threshold. Any remaining loan balance will also be written off after 25 years.

What happens if I don't complete my course?

You will be eligible to repay any postgraduate loan you have received. This is the case even if you exit your course early. In such cases you should contact Student Finance Northern Ireland promptly to ensure that additional payments are not made to you incorrectly.

These would be classed as overpayments and may not be subject to the same income-contingent thresholds. The same may be true of any payments incorrectly given to you for a loan you were not properly eligible for.

Being honest in your application and informing Student Finance Northern Ireland of changes to your course will normally remove the risk of overpayments.

Repaying your postgraduate loan

Our separate guide has detailed information on UK postgraduate loan repayments (in Northern Ireland and elsewhere). We've also included a handy postgraduate loan calculator.

Applications

When can I apply for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan?

Applications for Northern Irish postgraduate loans opened on 26th June 2017. Students can now apply via the Student Finance Northern Ireland website for courses beginning on or after 1st August 2017.

Can I apply online, or by paper?

You can apply using an online service, or by downloading an application form. Web applications will normally be processed more quickly, but students who already have an online account with another UK student finance agency may need to apply by paper.

For more information and advice, take a look at our detailed guide to UK postgraduate loan applications. This includes a full Northern Irish application walkthrough as well as additional FAQs and tips on selecting the right loan to apply for.

Will there be an application deadline?

Yes, but this is very relaxed. You will need to apply for a postgraduate loan within nine months after the first day of the academic year in which your course begins.

This means you can apply for a loan after you start your programme. You can also alter the amount of your loan up to one month before the end of your course.

Do I need to re-apply in each year of my course?

Yes. You will need to make a further postgraduate loan application in each year of your course (if it lasts for two or more years).

You will be able to borrow up to the maximum amount of your course fees in each year, provided the total amount you request does not exceed £5,500.

Northern Irish loan application guide

Looking for help with your application? We've put together a detailed walkthrough of the online process.

Comparing UK postgraduate loans

Each part of the UK will be offering their own postgraduate loans from 2017. All are available for Masters-level courses, but the individual systems are slightly different.

This section provides a quick comparison of postgraduate loans across the UK.

Which postgraduate loan am I eligible for?

Most students will only be eligible for one of the UK's four postgraduate loan options. Which one will depend on your normal residency and / or the part of the UK in which you plan to study:

  • Students living in Northern Ireland (not for the purposes of study) will be eligible for the Northern Irish postgraduate loans described on this page.
  • Students from Scotland, Wales and England will be eligible for loans offered by student finance services in their normal country of residence.
  • Students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland will normally only be eligible for a loan offered by the country they wish to study in.

UK postgraduate loans, side by side

The following table compares UK postgraduate loans in 2017 and highlights key differences between each country's systems:


2017 UK Postgraduate Loans
England Northern Ireland Wales Scotland
Value £10,280* £5,500 £10,280** £10,000***
Level Full Masters Up to Masters Full Masters Up to Masters
Courses Taught & Research Taught & Research Taught & Research Taught
Length Up to 4 years Up to 3 years Up to 4 years Up to 4 years
From 2016 2017 2017 2017
*The maximum amount for English postgraduate loans will rise from £10,000 to £10,280 in 2017.
**Wales also proposes a combination of means-tested and non-means-tested grants and loans from 2018.
***Scotland offers two separate postgraduate loans for tuition fees and living costs. Their eligibility criteria differ slightly.

Other forms of postgraduate funding in Northern Ireland

Of course, the planned postgraduate loans aren't the only form of funding for Northern Irish Masters students. Our guide to postgraduate funding in the rest of the UK includes a specific section on the options available in Northern Ireland.

Search for a Masters in the UK

Will a Northern Irish postgraduate loan help you pursue a Masters? Browse and compare Masters degrees in the UK on FindAMasters.com

Last updated - 28/06/2017

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