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Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 00:45 GMT
The cost of postgraduate study
Staying on at university can be costly

Andrew Rowan owes 11,000 after studying for a law degree but is willing to dip even deeper into debt to finance postgraduate study.

So the 22 year old is taking out another 10,000 professional career loan from a high street bank.

"I found law as a subject quite boring, not something I would pursue for a career out of choice," Mr Rowan, a Birmingham University student, said.

"I'm not really worried about my debt at the moment, I just need to focus on passing my course and getting a good job.

"And an MA in international relations might lead to a career at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or even journalism."

Boom time

While the National Union of Students estimates that British graduates are leaving university with an average 12,000 debt, the number of postgraduate students and the courses on offer continue to rise.

A decade ago, 100,000 students enrolled on postgraduate programmes.

Today the figure is 450,000, or one in four of the higher education student population, and there are 20,000 courses.

So why are many graduates embarking on more years of expensive study?

More graduates

The higher education careers service unit (CSU) believes the increasingly crowded graduate labour market and more courses with a vocational slant are the cause.

Chris Rea, managing editor at CSU, said: "The most important reason is employability.

"With the increase in the number of first degree holders, an additional qualification can differentiate applicants in the job market."

It is far easier to find a place on a postgraduate course than to secure funding. This has not kept pace with the growing number of students.

And the problem is more acute for those wanting to study arts and humanities degrees.


Last year, only 10% of new postgraduate students received an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB).

While first degree courses are paid for by student loans, overdrafts, part-time work and parents, the government has not organised a clear system of funding for postgraduates.

Mr Rea said: "There is no central source of information or standard application.

"It is up to the student to approach as many relevant funding providers as possible."

Postgraduate awards

The most important sources of postgraduate funding are the government-funded postgraduate and doctoral awards.

Funding is administered by six Research Councils and the Arts and Humanities Research Board (which is to become a research council).

Between them they provide over 10,000 studentships every year.

Competition is fierce for these awards, which pay tuition fees plus maintenance grants of up to 10,750.

It is easier to obtain funding in the science and engineering disciplines than in arts and social sciences.

The research councils are not the only public bodies providing postgraduate funding.

Students from Scotland and Northern Ireland can also secure awards from the Students Award Agency for Scotland and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Training and Employment.

Work and study

The majority of postgraduate students study part-time.

Chris Clarke, 41 is a full-time staff nurse with the West Midlands NHS in Worcester and a part-time MSc student in professional practice in nursing at the University College Worcester.

She says: "I'm doing postgraduate study because I cannot apply for promotion without further qualifications.

"But I have to study part-time as I need to continue to practise as a nurse for part of the MSc and also I would not be given a secondment from my job to study full time."

Some full-time students have part-time jobs on the side. Institutions often have their own employment offices offering work within and outside the place of study.

There are also research and graduate teaching assistant positions, whereby postgraduates receive direct payment or the waiving of fees in return for undertaking teaching or research duties.

It is always worth seeing if academic contacts have any news of impending opportunities.


Students can fund up to two years' training with career development loans - but only for vocational qualifications.

The idea was the result of a partnership between the Department for Education and Skills and four high street banks: Barclays, the Co-operative, Clydesdale and Royal Bank of Scotland.

Students can borrow between 300 and 8,000 to pay up to 80% of tuition fees and all course-related expenses.

The loan is interest-free until the end of the course, but repayment begins within a month of graduation.

Annual percentage rates (APRs) vary. Students would do well to shop around for the best value.

Shop around

All the high street banks offer some kind of professional loans. Lloyds TSB, Natwest and HSBC offer loans which are restricted to a few vocational courses.

It is worth asking your bank for advice on the loans available and its terms and conditions for repayment.

Mr Rowan secured a loan with HSBC.

"They have always been my bank and looked after me while I was at university with the interest-free overdraft," he says.

"The loan's interest is 2% above the base rate, no repayments for six months after I graduate. I then have to make 84 minimum monthly repayments."

The National Postgraduate committee and CSU provide comprehensive information and advice for postgraduate students. It is worth checking their websites for latest information.

See also:

02 Sep 02 | Education
01 Jul 99 | UK Systems
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