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Postgraduate student finance: what you need to know

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Are you applying for a postgraduate degree and feeling confused about student finance? The funding process for postgraduate courses is different to undergraduate study – here's our guide on what you need to know:

What’s the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate funding?

If you’re a home student (a student from the UK or a student from the EU who has pre-settled/settled status in the UK), applying for a student loan for an undergraduate degree in the UK is relatively straightforward and the process well-established, with the Student Loans Company (SLC) offering undergraduate loans for over 30 years.

When it comes to loans for postgraduate study however, the process is a little different.

So, what are the main differences between undergraduate and postgraduate funding?

1. Separate loans for undergraduate study, one loan for postgraduate study

If you’ve applied for SLC funding for an undergraduate degree in the past, you’ll remember having to apply for two separate loans – a tuition fee loan to cover your course tuition fees (which is usually paid directly to your university by the SLC), and a maintenance loan to cover living costs such as accommodation fees, food, toiletries and self-care products, and study essentials.

For postgraduate study, if you’re a home student from England, you’ll apply for one loan of up to £12,167 for a Master's course, if your course starts on or after 1 August 2023 (see the Government’s website for a full breakdown of the postgraduate loan). The loan will be paid directly into your bank account, and you can use it how you see fit; to pay your course fees, cover your living costs, or both. While this may provide some welcome flexibility, it also means you are now responsible for budgeting for your entire postgraduate study. It’s also worth noting that depending on your circumstances, the full £12,167 might not cover everything you need, so alternative funding is something to consider too. Keep reading for our tips on how to manage your postgraduate loan and the scholarships and bursaries we offer postgraduate students.

2. Fee structures

Universities in England can charge home students up to £9,250 for undergraduate study (and most do), but postgraduate fee structures are often different from university to university. This means you’ll need to do further research into what fees you could be paying for your chosen course, as you’ll need to consider what you can afford from the budget of your postgraduate loan. For example, at the University of Sunderland, our postgraduate course fees are tiered, and we charge home students £7,500, £8,000, £8,500 depending on the course. Therefore, in practice, if you were to apply for the full postgraduate loan, and you plan to use some of it for course fees, you’d have around £3,000-£4,000 left to pay for any living costs.

3. Repayments

Whether you are already repaying your undergraduate loan, or have yet to reach the income threshold, your repayment plan for your postgraduate loan will be completely separate from your undergraduate plan (see which undergraduate loan repayment plan you’re on). The amount you’ll repay and when you start paying it will depend on your income. You’ll start repaying your postgraduate loan when your income is over £403 a week, £1,750 a month or £21,000 a year (before tax).

The student loan repayment structure can be tricky to get your head around, however there is a great explanation of how to pay back your student loan on the Government’s website.

4. Postgraduate courses with undergraduate fees?

This might seem a bit strange, but there are some postgraduate courses that require an application for undergraduate student loans, rather than a postgraduate loan. These include teacher training courses (such as PGCEs), and pre-registration healthcare courses (such as the MNurse (Adult) course at the University of Sunderland). This might seem confusing, so it’s worth doing your research and reading our Student Financial Guidance team’s postgraduate funding guidance.

Managing your postgraduate loan and other funding

As the cost of living increases, it’s more important than ever to be aware of your finances. While studying, these are the sort of costs you might need to cover:

  • Tuition fees
  • Accommodation
  • Commuting/travel
  • Food and other household bills
  • Childcare
  • Study essentials

As previously mentioned, the postgraduate loan may not cover everything you need to pay for, so you might have to consider other funding methods. Here are some ideas:

Scholarships and bursaries

When exploring a course or university, include scholarships and bursaries in your research. This is financial support that does not need to be paid back, which is great news if you need some extra cash while you study. At the University of Sunderland, we offer a wide range of scholarships for postgraduate students. Some scholarships are automatically awarded, whereas others require an application. If you’re eligible, put an application in for any scholarships and bursaries you can – you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain!

Government grants and learning funds

Similarly to scholarships and bursaries, some courses have learning funds or specific Government-funded bursaries attached to them. For example, a lot of teacher training courses have generous bursaries available to support you while you’re training (check out our article on teacher training funding for more information). There are also Governments grants for childcare for some courses, such as PGCEs and the MNurse course, for example, and the Disabled Students’ Allowance that you could be eligible for.

Part-time work

If you can manage the balance of studies and work, a part-time job could be a good option to bring in some more money (it adds to your work experience too!). Here at Sunderland, the Employability and Enterprise Hub can support you to find part-time work that fits around your studies. You may also want to consider becoming a Student Ambassador, a fantastic opportunity to represent your course and the University while earning £12.31 per hour, inclusive of holiday pay (correct at the time of publishing).

Daniel Dunlavey, who studied MSc Tourism and Events here at Sunderland says, “Receiving a postgraduate loan was an immense help towards my experience studying for my Master's degree. The funding paid for my course costs and contributed significantly towards my living expenses. I supplemented my income by working as a Student Ambassador, which allowed me to earn a wage while studying, and also helped me make some great friends too. Budgeting while on a Master's can be challenging, but by having a realistic outlook and keeping a close eye on spending you can thrive. The University has a huge number of societies and activities that offer inexpensive and fun social events, so you can participate in student life without breaking the bank.”


Student finance can be complicated and confusing, but you don’t need to figure it out alone. Help is available – here at Sunderland you can book a confidential chat with our brilliant Student Financial Guidance team. To answer some FAQs about postgraduate student finance, we caught up with Student Financial Guidance Team Leader, Adrian Herbert:

What is a postgraduate loan and when can I apply?

“In the UK, a postgraduate loan is a government loan paid to students by the SLC. For UK students living in England, you should apply to Student Finance England (SFE) for this loan. There are two types of postgraduate loan – the Postgraduate Master's Loan (for students wishing to study a Master's course) and a Postgraduate Doctoral Loan (for PhD courses). You would apply for your loan on the SFE website, and if you plan to start your course in 2024/25, we expect the earliest you could make your application to be around April 2024.

If you are a UK student from elsewhere in the UK, you would apply to your own national Student Finance body (i.e. SAAS, SFW, SFNI) for your postgraduate funding.”

Do you get a maintenance loan for postgraduate study?  

“SFE do not pay a separate tuition fee loan and maintenance loan for Master's or PhD study. You’ll receive one postgraduate loan spread into termly instalments over the duration of the course.

The exceptions to the postgraduate loan system are PGCE courses and our MNurse course. These courses still attract the undergraduate model of funding, and you would apply to your Student Finance body (e.g. SFE) in the normal way.”

How do I pay my tuition fees?

“If you’re applying to the University of Sunderland and are going to use part of your postgraduate loan to pay your tuition fees, you would use the University’s fees instalment plan. This means that you would pay three instalments of your tuition fees over the academic year, which are timed to coincide with your three payments of postgraduate loan for the year. In other words, each time you receive a postgraduate loan instalment, you would use part of it to pay your term’s fees. You make your payments to the University using our online Payment Portal.”

Will I be eligible for postgraduate funding if I used my ‘gift year’ during my undergraduate studies?

“Postgraduate loans are an entirely different SLC product to undergraduate loans. Therefore, the amount of time you might have taken to complete your undergraduate studies does not affect your postgraduate loan at all.”

Am I entitled to postgraduate funding even though I received funding for my PGCE?

“Holding a PGCE qualification should not affect your eligibility for a postgraduate Master's or PhD loan from the Student Loans Company.”

Where can I get more information and advice about postgraduate funding?

The Student Financial Guidance Team is the University’s team of student finance experts who are on hand to answer your questions. If you want to chat with us, just get in touch on 0191 515 2284 or at studentfinancialguidance@sunderland.ac.uk and we’ll be happy to help.”

Published: 25 January 2024