• Abbie Tibbott

Master’s Fees and Funding: Things to Consider


When considering postgraduate study, it’s important to think about the costs involved. I’ve written several posts about my history MA, and I always discuss the price of the degree as a prohibiting factor. For clarity, I’ll be discussing pricing and loans for UK students studying in the UK, and I won’t be talking about specific numbers as these may change year on year. In this post, I wanted to lay out some general things to consider when pricing everything up, as well as where to search for extra funding.


1. Master’s degrees


Whether it’s an MA, MSc or MRes, anything that isn’t covered by undergraduate funding that have these letters will incur extra cost. If you know you’re interested in a master’s and you haven’t yet applied for university, it’s worth considering an integrated master’s. These are usually only available in the sciences, but it allows you to get a master’s degree while being funded by the undergraduate tuition fee and maintenance fee loans from Student Finance England. Financially this is a fantastic option, as it makes a postgraduate qualification more affordable, and also means that you have a place on a master’s programme from the start. Downsides of these degrees are that they often aren’t available in the Humanities, aren’t available at every university, and are also pretty competitive, with the threat of being dropped to a BSc programme if you don’t perform well.


In the UK, master’s students are eligible for a loan by Student Finance England. This isn’t means-tested, meaning you’re free to borrow as much as you want. When I took out this loan, I was entitled to just over £10k. Unlike undergraduate loans, this is paid directly to you, so it’s down to you what you spent it on. You’ll have to pay your tuition fees out of this money, and if there’s anything left over, that’s yours to spend. The loan amount rises with inflation, but the costs of degree courses are rising much faster. For example, when I started my MA, my course fees were just over £7k. Now, that same course (taught and assessed in the same way) is £10k.


The rising cost of postgraduate education is being fuelled by supply and demand, as lots of people went back to university to retrain as part of the Covid-19 impact on the job market. As a result, prices have gone up, especially as universities have no government cap on what they are allowed to charge for postgraduate education. This is actively pricing people out, as loans are now not even covering tuition fees, never mind the living costs involved.

 

2. Balancing the books


If you’re ready to hunt for a place, it’s worth considering how you are going to make up any funding shortfalls. Working part-time is a great idea, and can be pretty lucrative depending on your skillset. Taking on a part-time degree is a great way to continue working alongside your study, although you may miss out on daytime activities and seminars, so it’s best to speak to the director of postgraduate admissions in your department to see how that would work.


Funding pockets are scarce in the Humanities, but taking out an extra bank loan or putting debt on a credit card isn’t something I’d recommend to students. Even if it takes you five years to save up, taking out the government loan and using savings to pay outright is less risky than taking on debt like that. Student Finance England loans function differently than traditional bank loans, and the debt will just stress you out. Lots of master’s students are older, so if you do have to come back in a few years, it won’t be very noticeable.


Scholarships and bursaries are available for students from different backgrounds, so take a look at dedicated funding pages and ask around at your current university to see what funding pockets people have successfully accessed. People are often really happy to share application tips, and it’ll give you an idea whether that particular avenue is worth your time.


 

3. Staying or relocating


Full time master’s degrees take around 1-2 years, and you’ll apply in the final year of your undergraduate, or anytime before the application deadline if you’ve taken some time out. If you’re currently at university, it can make sense to stay at your current institution.


Some pros are:


· There may be alumni discounts available – at my university, I saved around £700 on my MA and £1,500 on my (first year) PhD fees. These will be well publicised on postgraduate webpages.

· You’re well established – knowing the staff, department and local area will mean that you can pick up where you left off. I was able to keep my job on campus which eliminated any panic over finding work in a new place.

· Housing – you’ll be familiar with the cost of living, and you may be able to extend your current contract so you don’t have to move.


Some cons are:


· The master’s programme offered for your subject might not be exactly what you want to do – other universities may be more closely aligned to your career aims, so it makes good sense to move.

· Same old, same old – you might be bored with your campus and need something new, or administrative, housing or even friendship problems might push you to relocate.

· Funding might be elsewhere – staying at your current university might be comfortable, but valuable funding that will make your life easier may be better found at other universities.


I chose to stay mainly because I didn’t want to relocate for just a year, but also due to the alumni discount that made it just a bit cheaper. I’m not saying those savings changed my life, but it definitely made a difference. I did look into other universities, but it didn’t make financial sense to move to another place that offered pretty much the same thing, but without the alumni discount. In the sciences there may be more opportunities, so definitely shop around for the best deal.

 

Overall, I hope that this has been a gentle, simple introduction to master’s degrees and the finances involved. I’ll link here the Student Finance England website which is the best source of information for all funding available from the government:

https://www.gov.uk/masters-loan


Finally, my last note on postgraduate degrees is that it’s okay to wait. Taking the plunge straight after undergrad may keep you connected with university life, but don’t force yourself into horrendous debt that may impact the rest of your life.


Happy studying!