Paying for Postgraduate Study – Findings from our evaluation of The Master’s Degree Loan Scheme

Contemporary discussion about encouraging access to Master’s degree study has long contemplated the potential role of government-offered student loans in driving take-up of postgraduate study. Introduced in 2016, the Master’s Degree Loan Scheme marks the first time that the Government has offered such a contribution to the costs of Master’s study, in an attempt to bring the student loan offer for postgraduate students somewhat in line with that offered to undergraduates.

Given the importance of this DfE initiative for postgraduate students, IFF are delighted to see that our independent evaluation of the Master’s Degree Loan has been published by the Department for Education. This report presents the findings of a survey of 2,002 Master’s students who started their study in 2016/17 and a survey of 79 providers of postgraduate education as well as analysis of historic secondary data. Findings from the quantitative study were also supplemented by qualitative interviews with Master’s students.

This study found that the English-domiciled Master’s population increased by a third between 2015/16 and 2016/17, suggesting at this early stage that the loan has been successful in increasing access to Master’s level education. This was accompanied by an increase in the proportion of students from a BAME background that made up the loan-eligible population of students studying at Master’s level, suggesting some success in widening participation as well.

Our research also uncovered evidence of the Loan leading to earlier access to the benefits enjoyed after students graduate, facilitating full-time rather than part-time study at postgraduate level for some students. This was not echoed, however, through any conclusive evidence that the Loan has reduced the average time gap that passes between undergraduate and postgraduate study.

From the perspective of Higher Education Institutions, our report also demonstrates that the Loan will help to provide more sustainable income for the sector, with institutions benefitting from increased student volumes in 2016/17. Half of institutions surveyed also reported that they believe the Loan will lead to increased revenue in the future.

On the same day that the report was published, 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”.

For more information speak to blog authors Lorna Adams and Sam Whittaker.