At a glance

Our multi-stranded evaluation of the Master’s Degree Loan involving research with the first cohort of students eligible for the Master’s Loans, universities and analysis of HESA data provided a robust evidence base against which to measure the impact of the Loan in terms of widening access to postgraduate level study.

About the client

The Department for Education (DfE) is responsible for children’s services and education, including early years, schools, higher and further education policy, apprenticeships and wider skills in England.

Department for Education

Challenges and objectives

The DfE introduced the Master’s Loan in 2016/17, marking the first time that Government has provided student loan finance to contribute to costs for postgraduate master’s study. As a result, the DfE wanted to evaluate the Loan against its first year aims to:

  • Stimulate increased domestic take-up of postgraduate master’s degree study by providing access to finance;
  • Enable those who could not otherwise afford (or would have to delay) study at postgraduate Master’s level to progress to study at this level;
  • In turn, improve the supply of highly skilled individuals to the UK economy.

The key challenge of this study was ensuring a survey sample that was representative of the 2016/17 English Master’s student population and therefore a robust enough evidence base against which the impact of the Loan could be accurately measured.


Our evaluation comprised several strands to ensure the assessment of the impact of the Loan was statistically sound and was considered from a both the student and provider perspective. A quantitative survey of 2,002 Master’s students who started their study in 2016/17 was supplemented with a survey of 79 universities as well as analysis of historic secondary data. Additionally, a cohort of the 2,002 students completing the survey were followed up qualitatively via in-depth interviews.


The evaluation evidenced that access to Master’s level education had increased, that students were accessing postgraduate level study sooner and completing these studies more quickly. The report of findings was published by the DfE in early May 2019 and on the same day Chris Skidmore MP, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, quoted our findings as part of his speech at the London School of Economics regarding governmental efforts to “secure the research talent of tomorrow”.

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