The nightmare of Masters funding - Postgraduate Study - Postgraduate - The Independent

The nightmare of Masters funding

It's becoming more than just a pain to pay for a postgraduate degree, says Harriet Williamson. In fact, it's downright diffcult

You have to be serious when you’re a Masters student. It’s about knuckling down, focusing and not dyeing your hair a different colour every two weeks. So said my mother.

Despite the academic step-up from your bachelor’s degree, the sense of superiority when faced with an unwashed and hungover population of undergraduates and a dissertation hand-in date in darkest September, it becomes quickly apparent that the really thing serious about being a Masters student is that the people holding the educational purse-strings have overlooked you. There isn’t any money.

We know this and we know that every time George Osborne opens his mouth it’s going to be painful, but I always believed that working hard and aiming high would be rewarded. Waking up to reality was uncomfortable, to say the least.

According to this, MA humanities students can be funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council or ‘sometimes’ by charities and other trusts. In this statement, ‘sometimes’ is the operative word. These grants and bursaries are like gold dust. Like magical pixie dust. They are not a reality for most students pursuing a taught MA in the humanities. The Student Loans Company offers no support for postgraduate degrees unless a career in teaching is what you’re after. The only option is to get a bank loan and cry yourself to sleep at night with thoughts of the interest accumulating.

A taught Masters degree is an essential milestone on the road towards a PhD and a possible academic career. You can’t move forward without one but it is an area of education that has been woefully neglected when it comes to funding and support for students. A good MA is tough, and rightly so. The rollercoaster of intense mind-expansion and long periods of solitary study can seriously knock your academic confidence. It is quite challenging enough without any added financial pressure.  

Get a part-time job, you say! Fair point, and of course I would if I could guarantee that the hours spent perfecting the art of pint-pulling wouldn’t jeopardize my degree, the very reason I took on the work in the first place. But perhaps my degree is in jeopardy already.

MA students are squeezed from all directions by very real financial pressures including rising tuition fees, rent, bills, food, travel, books and other course materials, plus their heavy workloads.

Many of those who start their MAs and experience financial pressures are becoming anxious, even depressed – and they are underperforming as a result. And let’s not forget the very able graduates who would have chosen an MA were it not for the cost. Higher education should not be a frivolous privilege for those wealthy enough to afford it. The fact is that people who can and should fly high aren’t gaining the academic altitude that they should. Part of Britain’s academic future has been clipped and the fact that it is due to money seems crude to me.

A highly-qualified workforce can benefit the economy and society generally, energising businesses and driving innovation. A meritocracy rewards the most gifted and hardworking, not a fraction of the most gifted and hardworking and those with the dumb luck to be from a wealthy background. I’d like to ‘knuckle down’, as my mother said I must, to some serious study without the constant worry that I can’t pay my heating bill or buy a key course text.

But it’s difficult. I worry for myself, of course, and my finances. I worry for my degree and more than that, I worry that future generations of students will face a pared down, dumbed down academia, that is only half up to the job and only available to those who can afford it. That, I believe, is serious.

Harriet P Williamson, 21, is an MA in English Literary Studies at the University of York.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Secondary Supply Teacher Lowestoft

£110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are currently look...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week