Postgraduate studies? That'll be £25,000, please

Postgraduate courses don't come cheap, but some grants are available. Emma Haughton investigates
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The Independent Online

It's one thing to secure a place for further postgraduate study, quite another to pay for it. While a decade ago there were some 100,000 postgraduates in the UK, today there are over 360,000, with more than 15,500 programmes available. To put it bluntly, there are too many students chasing too little cash, and many end up footing the bill themselves.

It's one thing to secure a place for further postgraduate study, quite another to pay for it. While a decade ago there were some 100,000 postgraduates in the UK, today there are over 360,000, with more than 15,500 programmes available. To put it bluntly, there are too many students chasing too little cash, and many end up footing the bill themselves.

That said, there are public funding bodies, most notably the research councils, the Arts and Humanities Research Board, the Student Awards Agency for Scotland, and various departments for education. In the case of most of the research councils, student funding is channelled through the university departments and courses, which select the students for their projects and submit their names and application forms to the awarding body. In the case of the AHRB and the Economic and Social Research Council, students choose their own project which is then forwarded by their chosen department.

Either way, competition for awards is fierce - there are only around 8,000 or so. All the research councils use stringent criteria to establish whether a proposal merits their funding. The Arts and Humanities Research Board, for instance, appoints assessors from among senior academic staff in departments across the country, who consider all information relevant to whether to support a particular student for a particular programme at a particular institution. They will assess your performance in your first degree, how well prepared you are for your chosen research programme, your own reasons for undertaking it, and any referees' reports.

By the AHRB's own admission, many highly qualified applicants do not gain awards, a situation echoed at the other research councils. Yes, there are other places you can turn to, but it's best not to get your hopes up. Local education authorities usually only provide funding for PGCE courses, and loans from the Student Loans Company are not available for postgraduate students. You may be able to take out a Career Development Loan, although these are only available for a limited number of vocational courses of up to two years. If you're studying for an MBA, there is a Business School Loan Scheme administered by the Association of MBAs, and there is a special law-school loan scheme assisted by the Law Society.

You could also try applying to one of the numerous charities, foundations and trusts that offer varying sums of money to researchers - some provide funding for very specific subject areas, or grants for study in foreign countries. Many universities offer a few postgraduate studentship awards, and departments may have some discretionary funding available.

When searching for funding, make sure you investigate every possible source and that you are up to speed on dates, deadlines and eligibility criteria. You should be able to find out much of this information from your university careers service, but it's also worth talking to current postgraduates to glean how they are managing, and to your course provider, who should be able to tell you whether there is any institutional help available.

That said, the odds are you won't receive an award, so what can you do? Most postgraduates - 222,660 out of 360,000, to be more exact - solve the problem by combining part-time work with studying. Graduate teaching and research assistantships are an increasingly popular option, but you can also find other types of work on campus, such as in libraries, laboratories or bars. A few take on a postgraduate course whilst working full-time - these are usually those whose employers encourage further study as part of their career development, pay some or even all of the course fees, and allow time off for study and exams.

Most postgraduates, however, rely on a mishmash of funding from different sources. Sources of cash can include part-time jobs, private savings, or loans and gifts from family members. Some take a year out after their first degree to build up their bank accounts, others make use of their bank's overdraft or loan facilities. As a last resort you may be able to apply to the university itself. The student welfare office will have details of access or hardship funds, usually available to both full- and part-time students.

The crunch question is how much will you need? Basically, you'll have two types of expense - fees and living costs. The average fee for a one-year masters course is £2,600, although non-EU students can pay at least double that. Many institutions now at least allow you to pay in termly instalments rather than all at the start of the year. Some offer preferable rates to their alumni.

You will also have to find money for essentials like food and accommodation - at least another £6,000 a year depending on where you study. All the more reason to make sure that you're right for postgraduate studies, and that you're on the right course at the right place.

 

* Prospects Web (www.prospects.csu.ac.uk/) A useful site with lots of information on current postgraduate opportunities and advice on funding.

* The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (http://agcas.csu.man.ac.uk/) Has some useful links to funding bodies and relevant organisations.

* Students' Money Matters: 2000, by Gwenda Thomas (Trotman, £9.99) Everything you could ever need to know about supporting yourself through your postgraduate studies.

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