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Northern Irish Postgraduate Loans Confirmed

Postgraduate Loans in Northern Ireland

Are you a Northern Irish student looking to study a Masters in the UK, but missing out on the 2016 postgraduate loans? Well, there's good news: Northern Ireland plans to introduce tuition fee loans for Northern Irish postgraduates from the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year.

Final details of the loans are still being confirmed, but it is likely that up to £5,500 will be available to cover tuition fees.

This page is based on the most recent information from the Northern Irish Department for the Economy and will be updated in full when further information is released in Spring 2017.

In the meantime we've put together an outline of the plans as they currently stand, together with a brief FAQ. Please note that specific details of eligible courses and other criteria are still subject to change.

Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland - expected details
What? Tuition fee loans for taught postgraduate courses in all subjects.
How much? Up to £5,500.
Who? UK nationals ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland. Other eligibility to be confirmed.
Where? Any UK university.
When? Expected for courses beginning in the 2017-18 academic year.
Repayment? To be confirmed. Initial estimates of income-contingent payments at 9% of earnings over £17,495 per year.

Course eligibility

Loans are expected to be available for Northern Irish 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?

Probably. There are no subject restrictions currently planned for Northern Irish postgraduate loans. MBAs and other specialised Masters degrees should 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?

Probably. Unlike England, Northern Ireland is considering postgraduate loan support for other courses at Masters level, including PGCert and PGDip qualifications.

These qualifications will usually cost less than a full Masters degree, in which case the amount you can borrow will be capped accordingly.

Find out more about postgraduate loans at PostgradLIVE! 2017

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

This is unconfirmed. Initial proposals only intended to make loans available for taught courses. This may be subject to change. Updates are expected in Spring 2017.

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?

Probably not. Separate support is already available for Northern Irish students to study Initial Teacher Training (ITT) qualifications such as PGCE courses.

More information is available on the NI Direct website.

How do loans work for part-time students?

Northern Irish loans are expected to 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.
  • £1,834 in each year of a three-year course.

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.

Loan amount

Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland will cover tuition fees up to £5,500. Unlike the English loans they will not be available for 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.

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.

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.

Why are loans for Northern Irish students worth less than those for English students?

The Northern Irish loans follow a different model to those in England. Whereas the English loans are offered as a separate £10,000 'contribution to costs', Northern Irish loans are an extension of the undergraduate loan system to cover postgraduate tuition fees as well..

Instead of taking out a second loan, you will simply add to the amount you have already borrowed. This means that you can borrow less overall, but your repayments will be much more manageable.

Instead of making repayments for undergraduate and postgraduate loans each month, you will only make one repayment, towards a single loan.

We'll update this guide as more information about student and course eligibility emerges.

Student eligibility

Eligibility criteria for postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland are similar to those in England. You will need to be a UK national, ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland.

What counts as being ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland?

You will be eligible for a loan if you have held a permanent address in Northern Ireland for at least three years. This will not include residence that has purely been for the purpose of study.

What if I have worked, studied or travelled outside Northern Ireland in the last three years?

Full details of residency criteria have not been confirmed, but they are likely to be similar to those for English postgraduate loans. If so, shorter periods of absence from Northern Ireland will not prevent you from taking a loan.

Your address history and other records will show that your residence outside Northern Ireland was temporary.

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.

Further confirmation of EU eligibility is expected in Spring 2017.

What about students from Scotland, England or Wales?

Higher education funding in the UK is a devolved issue. This simply means that it is the responsibility of each member country's government to make its own funding arrangements.

As such the postgraduate loans being offered in Northern Ireland are specifically targeted at Northern Irish students.

You may still be able to receive a loan for postgraduate study in Northern Ireland (or elsewhere) if you live in another part of the UK. But this will depend on the availability of postgraduate loan schemes in your own 'home' country:

  • England introduced a Masters loan scheme in 2016.
  • Scotland is reviewing proposals for a postgraduate loan scheme.
  • Wales has proposed a combination of postgraduate student loans and grants for 2018.


Information on postgraduate loan repayments is subject to confirmation. Current expectations are as follows:

Repayments for postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland will be integrated into the country's existing student loan system.

Your postgraduate loan will be added to the balance of your undergraduate loan. You will repay both together, on the same terms.

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

You will repay both your undergraduate and postgraduate loans together at the same rate: 9% of income over £17,495.

Repayments will not be concurrent (as in the English system). Instead you will make one monthly payment towards a single loan balance.

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 £17,495.

How will repayments be taken?

Repayments for your postgraduate loan will be taken directly from your pay packet each month, in the same way as income tax and national insurance. The Student Loans Company will not pursue you for the debt.

Exceptions apply to EU students whose repayments will be dealt with directly by the Student Loans Company.

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 £17,495.

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. Exact rates have not been confirmed, but will either be set at RPI (the Retail Prices Index) or at 1% above the base rate of a selected group of banks (whichever is lower).

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 £17,495 threshold. Any remaining loan balance will also be written off after 25 years.

Comparing the Northern Irish and English loans

Northern Ireland's postgraduate loan scheme is similar to the English loans, but there are a few fairly big differences between the two systems.

We've put together a handy table to help you compare them:

Northern Ireland England
£5,500 towards tuition fees £10,000 as a contribution to costs
Paid to universities Paid to students
For all postgraduate courses up to Masters level For Masters degrees only
To be confirmed For taught and research courses
Added to undergraduate debt Repaid concurrently with undergraduate debt
Repaid at 9% of income over £17,495 Repaid at 6% of income over £21,000
From 2017 From 2016

Other aspects of the two loan systems are the same. Both are available at universities across the UK, based on a student's ordinary residency criteria.

Further information

Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland are confirmed for 2017, but further details of the scheme are expected in Spring 2017.

We'll be working with the Department for the Economy to update this page as soon as more information emerges.

You can also read our guides to the postgraduate loans schemes being introduced in England, Scotland and Wales Or you can visit our sister-site, FindAPhD.com, for an overview of the doctoral research loans that have been confirmed for English students in 2018.

Finally, to stay up to date with these developments and other postgraduate funding news, you can sign up to the FindAMasters newsletter.

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.

Find out more

Got questions about the new Masters loans, or any other aspect of postgraduate study? Our experts will be on hand at this year's Postgrad LIVE! study fairs. Come along and get your questions answered.

Find out more about postgraduate loans at PostgradLIVE! 2017

Last updated - 19/01/2017

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