Master the art of financing postgraduate studies

Almost two million students in the UK are entering the final stages of their undergraduate degrees. But with next year's postgraduate courses kicking off in September students need to decide soon whether to enrol on another degree. One of the biggest barriers is securing the necessary funding, but there are options for students keen to continue their studies.

For starters, banks are keen to help. "Professional and career development loans are extremely important in helping people to increase their professional knowledge and build on their skills and experience," says James Hillion, head of lending at the Co-operative Bank. He says the main attraction of the loans is that you can "relax while the Government pays the interest during your studies and up to one month afterwards". From the banks' point of view, assisting students now can ensure a long-term relationship, leading to much more profitable business for the banks.

To qualify for this type of loan, your course does not have to necessarily lead to a qualification, but it must help with your career prospects. The loans are particularly popular with people starting Masters courses as they are a good way to fund course fees.

But banks' development loans are not the only option. There are other solutions for would-be postgraduate students wary about interest rates charged on the loans, especially if their finances are already groaning under the weight of a crippling amount of debt.

It's worth bearing in mind that the development loans are not the student-friendly loans given out by the Student Loan Company, with their flexible repayment times and amounts. Repayments have to start almost as soon as you finish your studies, which can make them very daunting.

Suzie Crossland, a current Masters student, went to the bank at the beginning of her course to get funding for her degree, but says that the limited repayment holiday at the end of the course put her off. "The loans are great if you can guarantee that you will be in employment within a month of finishing the course, but with the job market as it is, I just couldn't take that risk," she says.

Some universities provide funded places for students. So it is worth finding out what is available and where. Universities offer a range of scholarships and funded places with dedicated pages on their websites outlining how to apply for the awards and schemes on offer. They vary from full course funding to smaller cash prizes.

In his Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance published last autumn, Lord Browne advised that postgraduate study should not have its funding changed. However, he stressed that close attention to the enrolment numbers will be needed after the planned hike in tuition fees starts in 2012 to prevent a drop-off in the number of students entering on to postgraduate courses. That could be of benefit to Masters students – there could be a dramatic increase in the number of awards offered by universities trying to keep their enrolment numbers up.

Scholarships, sponsorship and loans

another way of funding postgraduate study is Employment Sponsorships. In some cases employers are willing to sponsor a student and help towards or pay for the entire course fees, but only as long as that course is relevant to advancing skills applicable for your job.        

Charities, foundations and trusts are able to provide students with some of the funding they need for their studies, but these are awarded from smaller pools of money than funded studentships and so do not typically offer to fund the entire costs of study. Typically they provide options in which students can get partial funding for their studies. These can be in the form of scholarships, studentships, bursaries, competitions and prizes. You can search a database of grants at the charity website turn2us.org.uk. If none of these seem like suitable options then you could do what thousands of students do each year, and work part-time to support living and course expenses.

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