All postgraduates deserve access to financial support
Two years ago, the Government decided to increase the value of its stipends for postgraduates funded by Research Councils from £6,500 per annum to a minimum of £9,500 per annum by 2003. It's clear that the Government is starting to realise the value of a trained workforce. But whilst these changes are welcome, this does nothing for the majority of postgraduates who have to fund themselves.
There are ways for self-funded postgraduates to seek support, but none of them are wholly adequate in their current form. The Government allows undergraduates and postgraduates equal access to its Hardship Funds, but these are only available to current students; they are of little use to potential postgraduates, who must convince their institutions of their ability to support themselves prior to gaining admission. There are numerous grants and bursaries available from universities, LEAs and charitable trusts, but these are difficult to apply for, usually heavily competitive, and often cover fees only, not living costs. It is possible to cover the cost of some vocationally oriented Master's courses with a Career Development Loan, but at serious risk; the student must be guaranteed to obtain a job within six months of completing the course.
We believe all forms of maintenance support awarded to undergraduates (throuh either a grant or a loan) should be available to postgraduates also. Access to financial support should depend on the needs of each individual, not the level of course he/she is attending. Parental support should not be required; nearly all postgraduates are aged 21 or over, and have supported themselves for at least three years, so it would be unfair to expect parents to make further contributions. Clearly grants are preferable to loans; what is important, however, is that the Government covers all students costs at the point of entry. Any repayments made after the course finishes should, like the current system of student loans for undergraduates, incur no interest above the rate of inflation and only commence when the student is earning enough to afford it.
- The extension of the Student Loans scheme to postgraduates;
- Any new system of student maintenance support should cover postgraduates as well as undergraduates; and
- Repayments on any loans should be income-contingent and incur no interest above inflation.