Postgraduate Student Loans in Northern Ireland
Following the introduction of postgraduate loans in England, Northern Ireland has announced that it too will extend its financial support for students. Read on for our complete guide to the new scheme:
How do I apply, and how much can I get?
How do I apply for a postgraduate loan?
Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland will be introduced for the 2017–18 academic year, and applications can now be submitted to Student Finance Northern Ireland.
How much can I get?
Northern Irish students will be entitled to a tuition fee loan of up to £5,500, however there will be no loans for living costs. This loan will be non-means-tested (unaffected by your financial background), and will be paid directly to your university.
If your tuition fees are less than £5,500, Student Finance Northern Ireland will pay your university accordingly, and any remaining money up to the maximum amount will not be paid to either your university or yourself. In other words, if your tuition fees were £5,000, your university would be paid £5,000, and you would only be borrowing that amount.
Alternatively, if you wish to borrow less than the cost of your course, you can do so. As student loans are repaid with interest, this would be of benefit if you are able to pay some or all of your tuition fees upfront.
If your course costs more than £5,500, you will need to cover the remaining costs yourself. You can still borrow the maximum amount, but any extra money required will need to be paid by yourself or from additional sources of funding.
How will my postgraduate loan be paid?
As the loan is designed only to cover tuition fees, it will be paid directly to your university. Depending on whether you choose to study a full- or part-time course, you will be able to borrow the following amounts each year:
Number of years of study
How much can I borrow per year?
Up to £5,500.
Up to £2,750.
Up to £1,833 in the first two years, and up to £1,834 in the final year.
What are the repayments like?
If you have already taken out an undergraduate loan with Student Finance Northern Ireland, your postgraduate loan will automatically be added to it, and you’ll make repayments each month to pay off the combined debt. If you don’t already have an undergraduate loan, you will still pay off your postgraduate loan in the same way.
Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland will be repaid at a rate of 9% of all income above £17,945, ensuring that those who earn less, pay back less at once, and those who earn more, pay back more at once.
The loans will also be subject to interest, which will start to accumulate once the first loan payment is made to your university. While the exact interest rate is yet to be decided, it is expected to be set at whichever of the following two is lower:
- Retail Prices Index (RPI).
- 1% above the base rate of a selection of banks.
After 25 years, if you haven’t paid off your loan in full, the remaining amount will be written off. However, it is assumed that a postgraduate qualification will increase your earning potential to a point at which you will be able to pay off your loan in full before the 25 year cut-off point.
Will I also be able to receive other funding?
Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland can be combined with other types of funding, such as:
- Charitable grants
- Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA)
- NHS Bursaries
However, if you are currently receiving an undergraduate loan, you will not be able to receive a postgraduate loan; you cannot receive two student loans at the same time.
To be eligible for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan, you must:
- Be a UK national.
- Be permanently resident in Northern Ireland when you are applying for a loan.
Unlike the postgraduate loan systems in England, Scotland and Wales, where you must be aged under 60 to be eligible, there is no age limit for applicants.
If you’re from elsewhere in the UK and have studied an undergraduate degree in Northern Ireland, you will not be eligible for a Northern Irish postgraduate loan as your permanent residence is not in the country.
If you are from Northern Ireland and have studied for an undergraduate degree elsewhere in the UK, you will be eligible for a postgraduate loan as your permanent residence is in Northern Ireland.
However, if you have remained in your country of study to live and work after completing your degree, this may impact your residency status. If you’re unsure, you should contact Student Finance Northern Ireland or your university.
In addition to the above personal criteria, your course must meet the following requirements:
- It must be a postgraduate qualification up to Masters level. Unlike in England and Wales, where only Masters courses are covered by the scheme, Northern Irish students will be entitled to funding if they are studying for one of almost any postgraduate course up to Masters level. This includes Postgraduate Certificates (PGCert), Postgraduate Diplomas (PGDip) and MBAs (although you should note that MBA tuition fees are usually higher than £5,500).
- If you’re from Northern Ireland, your course must be at a UK university. If you’re from elsewhere in the UK, your course must be at a Northern Irish university.
- It must last three years or fewer, with no minimum timescale required.
- It must begin on or after 1 August 2017. If you have already started a postgraduate course when the loans are introduced, you will be ineligible for funding.
- It can be full- or part-time.
- It can be a taught or research course.
Unlike other postgraduate loan programmes in the UK, the Northern Irish is not solely open to students studying for their first postgraduate qualification. This means that if you already have a Masters degree, PGCert, PGDip, or any other postgraduate qualification, you will still be eligible for a postgraduate loan.
Notably, teaching qualifications such as PGCEs and PGDEs are ineligible for postgraduate loans, with alternative funding already available for students of these courses.
PhD students in Northern Ireland are currently unable to apply for funding. However, Northern Ireland is considering implementing a new system that would provide postgraduate research loans, and would be similar to the scheme being introduced in England in 2018.
What about EU students?
If you are an EU student, you will be eligible for a postgraduate loan as long as you have been resident in the EU, EEA or Switzerland for three years. If you are an EEA or Swiss student, you will also be eligible if you have migrant worker status in the UK.
Brexit will not have an immediate impact on funding for EU students, with the whole of the UK guaranteeing that there will be no changes to fees and funding for students in the 2017-18 academic year.
Next page: Postgraduate Student Loans in Scotland