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Financing your studies

Postgraduate student loans in Northern Ireland

Students living in Northern Ireland may be eligible for a postgraduate tuition fee loan.

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CONTENTS

  1. Postgraduate loans and grants in Northern Ireland – how much can you get?

  2. Are you eligible for a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland?

  3. Is your course eligible for a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland?

  4. Postgraduate finance for EU and international students in Northern Ireland

  5. How to apply for a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland

  6. Repaying your loan

Postgraduate loans and grants in Northern Ireland – how much can you get?

In 2020–21, Northern Ireland students are entitled to a postgraduate tuition fee loan of up to £5,500. Unlike in some UK nations, this loan can be used for a postgraduate certificate or postgraduate diploma, not just a full master's degree.

This funding is for the whole course (not per year), and courses can be up to three years long. Like your tuition fees, the money will be paid directly to your university when you start your course.

If your tuition fees are lower than £5,500, Student Finance Northern Ireland will only pay what your university charges and you won’t get the remaining money. If your course costs more than £5,500, you'll need to pay the difference yourself.

The loan isn’t means-tested (i.e. not based on your income), and you can apply for other financial help from educational trusts or for university scholarships. If you’re eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), this will be unaffected by a postgraduate loan.

If you already have an undergraduate loan that’s eligible to be repaid, repayments will only be taken if you’re earning above the income threshold. Your loan doesn’t count as income for loan repayments.

Bear in mind that postgraduate tuition fees vary widely, with some degrees costing far more than the amount of loan you’ll receive.

Are you eligible for a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland?

You must meet these criteria to be eligible for a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland:

  • Normally live in Northern Ireland, and not just for study – if you're from Northern Ireland and are studying elsewhere in the UK, your ‘residence' is still counted as being in Northern Ireland (the exception is if you've stayed in another UK nation to work after your degree) 
  • Be a UK or EU/ROI national, having lived in Northern Ireland for at least the past three years (exceptions include refugees, those with 'settled status' and members of the armed forces or their dependent relatives)

You’re still eligible for postgraduate funding if you already have an equivalent or higher qualification as long as you haven’t already received a postgraduate loan.

Is your course eligible for a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland?

To be eligible for postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland, your course must be provided by a publicly funded higher education institution in the UK (this includes degrees from the Open University).

It can be a taught or research-based qualification up to master's level. This includes postgraduate certificate (PGCert) or postgraduate diploma (PGDip) as well as master's degrees such as MBAs (although MBA tuition fees are much more than £5,500).

If you self-funded a lower level postgraduate qualification, you can use the postgraduate loan for a 'top-up' master's degree.

Courses that aren’t eligible include teaching qualifications such as PGCEs and PGDEs, which are covered by undergraduate funding. The same applies to integrated master's degrees, where these are combined with an undergraduate course. Master of Architecture (MArch) may be an exception if you study part-time. The loan isn’t eligible for doctoral courses (PhD). If you're unsure whether your course falls into this category, check with the provider.

For an intercalated degree, where you take a break from your undergraduate studies to complete a separate but related course, a postgraduate tuition fee loan may affect your eligibility for subsequent undergraduate funding, other than for a Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science or Architecture degree.

The course can be studied by attendance or by distance learning, and must be completed in three academic years or less, whether it’s full-time or part-time.

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Postgraduate finance for EU and international students in Northern Ireland

If you’re an EU student, you may be eligible for a postgraduate loan. You must have been a resident in the EEA or Switzerland for three years and study in Northern Ireland, living there on the first day of your course.

If you’ve already been living in Northern Ireland for three years, you can apply as a student from Northern Ireland and study elsewhere in the UK. Post-Brexit, Northern Ireland has confirmed that EU students starting a degree in 2020–21 will remain eligible for the duration of their course. No decision has been announced for autumn 2021, however in England the UK Government has declared that EU students will no longer be eligible for home fee status or financial support.

Those from outside the EU are unlikely to be eligible for a postgraduate tuition fee loan from Northern Ireland unless you have the right to permanently reside in the UK (e.g. having refugee status).

There are also some exceptions for EEA migrant workers, Swiss or Turkish applicants. However, there are often scholarships and bursaries for international students studying at postgraduate level, so check what your university has on offer.

How to apply for a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland

You can apply online or by post to Student Finance Northern Ireland.

The deadline is nine months after the course starts. You must apply again for each year of your course, remembering that courses must be completed in three academic years or less.

You'll need evidence of your identity if applying for a postgraduate loan for the first time. You'll need to send a valid UK passport or a birth/adoption certificate. EU nationals should also send a valid passport.

The money is paid directly to the university. If your postgraduate course lasts longer than a year, the loan will be split across the duration of the course.

Number of years of study

Maximum loan per year

One

£5,500

Two

£2,750

Three

£1,833 in the first two years, and up to £1,834 in the final year

 

Repaying your loan

Your postgraduate loan plan is on Plan 1, the same terms as undergraduate loans taken out with Student Finance Northern Ireland. If you have an undergraduate loan, your postgraduate loan will be added to it. You'll then make a single repayment each month to pay off the combined debt.

Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland are eligible for repayment when your income is over £19,390, taking 9% of your income above this threshold. For example, if your salary is £24,000 you'll be paid £2,000 per month, of which £38 will be taken in repayment of your postgraduate tuition fee loan. This threshold changes in line with inflation each year, and from 6 April 2021 it will be £19,895.

You start to repay your loan the April after your course ends, once you’re earning above this income threshold. Repayments can be taken if you exceed the monthly or weekly threshold at any time (for example, if you got a bonus or worked overtime). 

The loan itself will be subject to interest, although this is relatively low – at 1.1% from 1 September 2020. This may change, as interest is based on the Retail Price Index (RPI) or the Bank of England interest rate plus 1%, whichever is lower. After 25 years, if you haven’t paid off your loan in full, the remaining amount will be written off.

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