Postgraduate Loans in Northern Ireland
Students living in Northern Ireland may be eligible for a postgraduate tuition fee loan. However you don't get any funding to help with your living costs. Read on for our complete guide.
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How much can you get in 2019 • Are you eligible for a postgraduate loan? • Is your course eligible? • EU or international students • Getting a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland • Loan repayments • Next steps
Northern Ireland students will be entitled to a postgraduate tuition fee loan of up to £5,500. Unlike some of the UK's nations, the 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. As it is for your tuition fees, the money will be paid directly to your university when you start your course.
The loan is not means-tested (i.e. it is not based on your income), and you can apply for other financial help from educational trusts, or for university scholarships. If you are eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), this will be unaffected by a postgraduate loan.
If you already have an undergraduate loan that is eligible to be repaid, repayments will only be taken if you are earning above the income threshold. Your loan does not count as income for loan repayments.
It's worth bearing in mind that postgraduate tuition fees vary widely, with some degrees costing far more than the amount of loan you will receive. If your tuition fees are lower than £5,500, Student Finance Northern Ireland will only pay what your university charges; you do not get the remaining money. If your course costs more than £5,500, you'll need to pay the difference yourself. See the link at the foot of this page to our annual survey of university tuition fees to find out more.
You must meet all the following criteria to be eligible for a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland:
- Age: In Northern Ireland there is no age limit for applicants.
- Where you normally live: You must 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 nation after your degree in order to work. Equally if you're from elsewhere in the UK and studying in Northern Ireland, you'll need to apply to your 'home' student finance body for postgraduate funding.
- How long you've lived in the UK: You must have lived in Northern Ireland for at least the past three years, as a UK or EU/ROI national. Exceptions include refugees or those with 'settled status' (with no restriction on how long you can stay), and members of the UK armed forces or their dependent relatives. International or EU-resident students should check the relevant section further down this page.
- Previous qualifications: You are still eligible even if you already have an equivalent or higher qualification, so long as you've not already received a postgraduate loan.
If you have any question about your eligibility, it is worth checking with your nation's student finance body. Contact details are at the foot of this page.
Your course must also meet the following criteria (for master's courses starting after August 2017):
- Provider: The course must be provided by a publicly funded higher education institution in the UK. This includes degrees from the Open University.
- What type of course is eligible? 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.
- What type of course isn't eligible? Courses that are not 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 is not eligible for doctoral courses (PhD). If you're not sure whether your course falls into this category, check with the provider.
- How about an 'Intercalated' course? An 'intercalated' degree is where you take a break from your undergraduate studies to complete a separate but related course. A postgraduate tuition fee loan for an intercalated course may affect your eligibility for subsequent undergraduate funding, other than for medicine, dentistry, veterinary science or architecture degrees.
- Distance learning? The course can be studied by attendance or by distance learning.
- Any limit on the course length? It must be completed in three academic years or less, whether it is full- or part-time.
If you are an EU student, you may be eligible for a postgraduate loan. You must have been 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 have already been living in Northern Ireland for three years, you can apply as a student from Northern Ireland and study elsewhere in the UK. Ahead of Brexit, Northern Ireland has confirmed that EU students starting a degree in 2020–21 will remain eligible.
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.
If you are unsure whether you are considered a UK, EU or international student, please check with the relevant student finance body. Details for Student Finance Northern Ireland are at the foot of this page.
Applications can be made online or sent by post to Student Finance Northern Ireland.
The deadline is no later than nine months after the course starts. You must apply again every year that a tuition fee is to be paid (i.e. 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 you are applying for a postgraduate loan for the first time. You'll need to send a valid UK passport or otherwise a birth or adoption certificate. EU nationals should also send a valid passport.
The money is paid direct to the university. If your postgraduate course lasts longer than a year, the loan will be split across the duration of the course, as illustrated below:
Number of years of study
What is the maximum amount I can get per year?
£1,833 in the first two years, and up to £1,834 in the final year
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 £18,935, taking 9% 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.
You start to repay your loan the April after your course ends, once you are earning above this income threshold. Note, 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 – currently at 1.75% since December 2018. Interest rates may be subject to change in the future. After 25 years, if you haven’t paid off your loan in full, the remaining amount will be written off.
Visit Student Finance Northern Ireland to find out more and apply for a postgraduate loan in Northern Ireland. You'll need to either log in with your previous details if you've had a student loan before, or register to create an account.
For a guide to postgraduate tuition fees charged by each UK university, see the indovidual course information page, found via our course chooser.
Next page: Postgraduate Loans in Scotland