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.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software Developer

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Software Developer i...

AER Teachers: Graduate Primary TA - West London - Autumn

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: The school is seeking gra...

AER Teachers: Graduate Secondary TA - West London

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: The school is seeking gra...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Surrey - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Croy...

SPONSORED FEATURES

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent