This Wednesday, the government announced the introduction of postgraduate loans worth up to £10,000. These government backed loans will be available from 2016-2017 to students under the age of thirty studying any masters subject. It’s predicted they will benefit up to 40,000 students and bring an extra 10,000 into postgraduate study.
National Union of Students (NUS) Vice President Megan Dunn believes postgraduate loans are a step in the right direction, and I echo her comment.
Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds have been excluded from postgraduate study for far too long, as finding funding for a Masters degree has previously been extremely difficult. Making this easier is an incredible win for the student movement.
However, the model for these loans isn’t without its problems.
Discussions on repayment rates will be important. Further talks are still happening, but the Treasury has said that the loans will be designed so that on average, they will be paid off in full. I personally am not convinced that mounting more debt on students, and creating a wider tax burden, is the most sustainable way to fund higher education. Fees are themselves a huge barrier, in an ideal world they would not exist, but it is worth celebrating that students’ unions were collectively able to lobby the government to introduce these loans.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) point out that ‘Students from disadvantaged areas tend to do less well in higher education than those with the same prior educational attainment from more advantaged areas.’1 Therefore, while these loans may encourage more students to take part in postgraduate study, there’s still a large amount of work to be done to look at why students from poorer backgrounds still don’t do as well at University. Postgraduate loans will also mean students will be in more debt - and as students from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to earn less after graduating than students from more advantaged areas, they will end up paying off more loan due to interest rates. Students from independent schools on average earn 7% more than students from state schools 2. It would be amazing if these loans did something to narrow this gap. Students will pay off postgraduate and undergraduate loans at the same time, so students will possibly graduate with debts in excess of £60,000.
Postgraduate loans are an important step in widening access to this type of study, but we must never forget the importance of outreach and properly funded scholarships and bursaries – without this, some students won’t even make it to the Undergraduate stage.
I am pleased that the student movement won this, and we must continue to fight for these loans to be extended for students over 30, and an education system that does not force such high levels of personal debt onto our student members.