Tuition fee loans of up to £5,500 will be available in Northern Ireland (NI) from 2017/18, for eligible students taking postgraduate programmes

Is my programme eligible for a NI postgraduate loan?

Programmes mustn't start before the 2017/18 academic year, and must be delivered by a university or college in the UK.

Programmes must be completed in three acadmic years or less, and can be studied on a full- or part-time basis, in attendance or via distance learning.

Eligible qualifications include:

  • postgraduate certificates (except for the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), which is already covered by teacher training funding)
  • postgraduate diplomas
  • taught Masters degrees, including the Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • research Masters degrees.

Please note that the postgraduate tuition fee loan will not be available for Doctoral (PhD) study.

Am I eligible?

You can apply for a NI postgraduate loan even if you already hold an equivalent or higher level qualification. Please note, however, that if you receive a postgraduate tuition fee loan you will not be eligible for a second – even if your new programme is of a higher level than the first, and whether or not you have not previously taken out the maximum loan available.

Residential eligibility criteria is slightly more straightforward than England's Masters loan. If you're a UK national who has lived in NI for the last three years for a reason other than study, you're eligible. Similarly, students from the European Union (EU) are eligible if they've been resident in the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland for the last three years for a reason other than study. However, they must study at a university in NI.

How will I receive my loan?

The loan will be paid directly to your institution by the Student Loans Company (SLC). The loan only covers your tuition fees, and therefore the amount that you can borrow is capped at £5,500 or the cost of your programme - whichever is lower. If your programme costs more than £5,500, you'll have to pay the excess yourself or find additional methods of postgraduate funding.

The loan will be paid in three instalments throughout the academic year if you're studying full time, while for part-time programmes, the payment of the loan will be spread equally across each year of your course. For example, a loan of £5,500 will be paid to your university in instalments of:

  • £2,750 each year if it is a two-year programme;
  • £1,834 each year if it is a three-year programme.

When will I repay my loan?

Postgraduate debt is combined with any undergraduate debt that you've already incurred, and repaid at a rate of 9% on your earnings over £17,775. Interest rates haven't been confirmed, but will be set either at the retail price index (RPI) or at 1% above the base rate of a selected group of banks. Interest will begin accruing once the university receives the first loan instalment.

You'll begin repayments from the April after you graduate or if you withdraw from the programme. Debt will be cancelled after 25 years, but most graduates will have already fully repaid by this point.

If you're a UK national, your employer will take the repayments directly from your wage; or, if you're self-employed, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will calculate how much you must repay on completion of your annual self-assessment tax return. If you're not a UK national, the SLC will contact you directly regarding repayments.

How do I apply for a loan?

Applications will be made via the SLC from late June 2017.

How does the NI postgraduate loan compare to the English Masters loan?

Postgraduate loans in NI will be:

  • worth a maximum of £5,500, which can only be used towards tuition fees
  • available for programmes starting in 2017/18
  • available for most taught postgraduate programmes up to and including Masters degrees
  • paid directly to universities
  • added to any undergraduate student debt
  • repaid at 9% of income over £17,775.

Masters loans in England are:

  • worth a maximum of £10,000, which can be used towards tuition fees and living costs
  • available now, for courses beginning from the 2016/17 academic year
  • available for most taught and research Masters degrees
  • paid directly to students
  • repaid concurrently with any undergraduate student debt
  • repaid at 6% of income over £21,000.