2023 Postgraduate Loans in Northern Ireland
Written by Mark Bennett
A Northern Irish postgraduate tuition fee loan lets you borrow up to £6,500 towards the cost of your UK Masters degree, Postgraduate Certificate or Postgraduate Diploma.
The loan is provided by Student Finance Northern Ireland on behalf of the Student Loans Company. You only repay it once you finish your course and earn over £22,015 a year.
Northern Irish postgraduate loans - at a glance
|Tuition fee loans for full-time, part-time and distance learning postgraduate courses.
|Up to £6,500.
|UK and ROI nationals resident in Northern Ireland.
|Any UK university.
|9% of annual income over £22,015. Interest at 1.5%.
|Open now for 2023-24 courses.
You can borrow up to £6,500 with a Northern Irish postgraduate loan. You can request less than this if you like, but you can’t borrow more than the fees for your course. If your course costs more than £6,500 you will have to make up the difference using income, savings or other postgraduate funding.
The total available loan amount will be spread evenly across your course (for up to three years of study). You can’t borrow less in one year and carry the remaining money over to subsequent years.
Each year’s loan will be paid in three instalments of 25%, 25% and 50%. This means the maximum individual payments for your loan will be as follows:
Annual postgraduate loan amounts
|Based on maximum loan value, with figures rounded to the nearest £1.
You’ll need to make a new application for your loan each year, stating how much you want to borrow. You can request less than the total for any given year, but you can’t carry over any ‘unused’ loan.
Whatever you request, Student Finance NI will pay the loan directly to your university for tuition fees (not to your bank account). There is no additional postgraduate maintenance or living-cost loan.
The loan isn’t means-tested or based on your credit history. You can borrow the same amount regardless of your financial circumstances.
Frequently asked questions
We've answered a selection of FAQs about Student Finance NI's postgraduate loans below.
Are Northern Irish postgraduate loans available for maintenance?
No. These loans are just for tuition fees and are always paid directly to your university. It isn’t possible to borrow anything extra for living costs.
Do I have to borrow the full amount?
No. You decide how much loan to request, up to the cost of your course, or the maximum loan value of £6,500 (whichever is lower).
What if my fees are lower than £6,500?
What if my fees are higher than £6,500?
Unfortunately, you’ll have to make up the difference yourself – but there’s lots of other postgraduate funding out there to help you do that.
Are Northern Irish postgraduate loans means-tested?
No. The amount you can borrow isn’t based on your income and savings (or your parents’).
When will the university receive my Northern Irish postgraduate loan?
Provided you apply early enough, your loan payments should reach the university at the start of each term - in time to pay your fees.
Can I combine a Northern Irish postgraduate loan with other funding?
Yes. Because the loan only covers tuition fees, it is expected that students will ‘top up’ their student finance with other postgraduate funding. This could include:
If you receive funding from the NHS or another public body (such as the UK Research Councils) you should check whether it affects your eligibility for a postgraduate loan.
UK and ROI students need to have lived in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man for the past three years and be ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland (this means that Northern Ireland is where you normally live when you aren’t at university and you haven’t moved there just to study).
There are no age restrictions for Northern Irish postgraduate loans. You can also apply for up to one loan even if you already have a postgraduate qualification. (However, you can’t have previously had any UK postgraduate loan).
You may also be able to apply for a loan as an international student if one of the following applies:
- You have EU settled status in the UK
- You are the child of a Turkish worker
- You have been granted the right to live in the UK as a refugee or person with humanitarian protection
UK students who aren’t ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland should apply for a different UK postgraduate loan.
Brexit and Northern Irish postgraduate loans
EU, EEA and Swiss nationals will no longer be eligible for student finance unless they have EU settled status in the UK and have lived in the UK or EEA for the past three years. Republic of Ireland nationals continue to be eligible for student finance under the Common Travel Area.
Frequently asked questions
Below you can find the answers to several common questions about eligibility for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan.
Will my credit history be checked?
No. Your personal credit rating doesn’t affect your ability to borrow a postgraduate student loan.
The only exception concerns arrears to the Student Loans Company (for repayments you were eligible to make, but haven’t). Your application may also be refused if you have previously been convicted of fraud and deemed ‘unfit for support’.
Can I still receive Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA)?
Yes. If you qualify for postgraduate DSA you can receive it from Student Finance Northern Ireland in addition to your postgraduate loan.
Can I get a Northern Irish postgraduate loan if I already have a postgraduate degree?
Yes. You can have a loan for a new postgraduate course, even if you already have a Masters degree, PhD or other postgraduate qualification.
However, you can only ever have one student loan for postgraduate study. You won’t normally be able to apply for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan if you’ve already had one, or if you’ve received a different UK postgraduate loan.
Is there an age limit for postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland?
No. You don’t have to be a certain age to apply for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan. Note that this is different to other UK postgraduate loans.
What counts as being ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland?
You’ll need to be ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland to apply for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan as a UK-resident student.
This means that Northern Ireland is where you normally live and you haven’t moved there just to study at university. You’ll normally count as being ordinarily resident if any or all of the following are true:
- You lived in Northern Ireland before you went to university for your Bachelors degree
- You received an undergraduate loan from Student Finance Northern Ireland
- You have lived and worked in Northern Ireland after graduating from university
If you think you are ordinarily resident in another part of the UK you should apply for a loan in England, Wales or Scotland instead.
What if I have moved from Northern Ireland to another part of the UK for my undergraduate degree?
You will still count as being ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland (living elsewhere to study doesn’t affect your residency).
What if I have moved to Northern Ireland from another part of the UK for my undergraduate degree?
You will still count as being ordinarily resident in the country you lived in before you went to university and should apply for a different UK postgraduate loan.
What if I work after my undergraduate degree, instead of going straight into a Masters?
Living and working in a different part of the UK means you aren’t just there to go to university. This can change your residency status.
- You live in Northern Ireland but go to university in Scotland. After graduating you stay in Scotland to work for several months and eventually decide to study a Masters the following year. You will now count as being ordinarily resident in Scotland and should apply for a Scottish postgraduate loan rather than a Northern Irish postgraduate loan.
If you aren’t sure about your residency status, check with Student Finance NI.
Can I get a Northern Irish postgraduate loan if I’ve been living outside the UK?
You normally need to have been living in the UK for the past three years in order to qualify for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan as a UK student.
However, exceptions may be made if you’ve been working temporarily or studying abroad. Check with Student Finance NI before you apply.
Are international students eligible for Northern Irish postgraduate loans?
You may be able to apply for a loan as an international student if you hold refugee status, are subject to humanitarian protection, or have lived in the UK for a long time.
For more information on UK fees and finance for international students, we recommend you check the resources produced by UKCISA.
Remember that you may still be eligible for other international Masters funding, even if you can’t get a postgraduate loan.
Can I repeat a year of study?
No. You can’t get any extra loan to repeat a year and extend the length of your course (even if you haven’t taken the full loan amount).
Can I receive a second postgraduate loan to transfer or begin a different course?
You can only ever have one Northern Irish postgraduate loan. An exception may be made if you withdraw from your initial course due to compelling personal reasons.
Can I take a break from my course?
You may be able to take a break from your programme for up to two years and resume your postgraduate loan payments when you restart. However, you will need to discuss this with Student Finance NI.
Northern Irish postgraduate loans are available for taught and research Masters degrees as well as shorter Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) and Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) courses in any subject. You can also get a loan to top up an existing PGCert or PGDip to a higher-level qualification.
UK-resident students can use a Northern Irish postgraduate loan to study at any UK university.
You can study for up to three years on full-time, part-time or distance learning basis (provided you are living in the UK whilst studying).
Loans aren’t available for a PGCE (or other postgraduate teacher training course), courses eligible for other student finance in Northern Ireland.
Separate PhD loans in Northern Ireland have been considered, but aren't confirmed yet. Our newsletter will let you know if this changes.
Frequently asked questions
These are the answers to some frequently asked questions about course eligibility.
Can I get a loan for a part of a postgraduate course?
Yes. You can apply for a loan to pay for part of a course you’ve already started (since August 2017). You can also use a loan to ‘top up’ an existing qualification; for example, by completing a dissertation and converting a PGDip into a full Masters degree.
Can I get a Northern Irish postgraduate loan for a research Masters?
Can I get a Northern Irish postgraduate loan for an MBA?
Can I get a Northern Irish postgraduate loan for an LLM?
Yes. You can apply for a loan for a Master of Laws (LLM). You can also receive funding for a programme that includes a Legal Practice Course (LPC) qualification. However, you can’t get a loan for a standalone LLM (the course has to award a full Masters degree).
Can I get a Northern Irish postgraduate loan for a PGCert or PGDip?
Can I get a Northern Irish postgraduate loan for a PhD (or other doctorate)?
No. Northern Ireland has considered offering student loans for PhDs, but won’t be doing so this year. Our newsletter will update you as soon as more information is available.
You can apply for your postgraduate tuition fee loan online at the Student Finance NI website (use your existing login account, if you have one). Alternatively, you can download an application form to apply by post.
When you first apply you’ll need to provide proof of identity, details for the course you wish to study and information on your residency and address history.
Student Finance NI will review your application and notify you if any further information is required. Once your application has been approved, the Student Loans Company will write to confirm your loan entitlement and payment schedule.
The deadline for applications is nine months from the start of your course. So, if your course starts in September 2023, you’ll have until 31 May 2024 to apply for your loan. However, you should apply as soon as possible in order to make sure your loan is ready for the beginning of your course.
You’ll need to reapply for your loan in the second and / or third years of your course (if your programme lasts longer than a year). This is to confirm your loan request for that year and won’t require as much information.
You can find more details and advice in our postgraduate loan application guide.
Frequently asked questions
Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about applying for a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland.
Do I have to reapply for a loan in subsequent years of my course?
Yes. You will need to reapply at the beginning of each year and state how much you wish to borrow for that part of your course (up to the annual maximum).
Can I use my existing student finance account?
If you already have an account with Student Finance NI you must use this for your postgraduate loan application.
If you have previously received support from a different provider you should check that you are applying for the right postgraduate loan. If you are eligible for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan you should apply by post.
You’ll be liable to start repaying your postgraduate loan from 6 April in the year after you graduate.
The amount you actually repay is income-contingent: you’ll only repay 9% of what you earn over £22,015 a year.
The repayment process depends on where and how you work:
- If you are employed in the UK, HMRC will take repayments on behalf of the Student Loans Company, at the same time as your income tax and national insurance
- If you are self-employed in the UK, HMRC will take repayments as part of your annual tax return
- If you are working outside the UK, you will need to contact the Student Loans Company and arrange a repayment process with them
- If you are unemployed, you won’t make any repayments
Your postgraduate loan repayments will be combined with those for your Northern Irish undergraduate student loan (if you have one). This means you’ll make one smaller repayment, instead of experiencing two separate deductions from your salary.
Interest will be charged from the date of your first loan payment, at a rate linked to inflation. This is currently 1.5%.
Any unpaid loan balance (including interest) will be cancelled after 25 years (from the date you became liable to make repayments).
Frequently asked questions
Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about repayments for Northern Irish postgraduate loans.
When do repayments begin for Northern Irish postgraduate loans?
You won’t start repaying your loan until 6 April after you graduate and will only do so when you are earning over £22,015 a year.
Can the repayment terms change?
The way your repayments work won’t change – they’ll still be income-contingent. However, the exact threshold and interest rates can change as follows:
- Your repayment threshold will normally rise each year with inflation
- Your interest rate is also linked to inflation and may rise or fall accordingly
We aim to keep this page updated with any changes, but you should always confirm the current details with Student Finance NI before applying for a loan.
Got a question about the Northern Irish postgraduate loans and can’t find the answer in our guide?
We’re always updating this page, based on information from the Student Loans Company and the questions students ask us at our study fairs. So there’s a good chance we’ve answered your question.
If we haven’t, get in touch with us by emailing editor[at]findamasters.com: we’ll do our best to answer your question (and add the information here).
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