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UK students

Postgraduate Funding in 2020/21

We have prepared the following information for students who are going to be starting postgraduate courses with us in the 2020/21 academic year. If you need any more information after reading this webpage, please contact us.

Whilst Masters courses and PhD courses now attract funding from the Student Finance loans system, there are other funding opportunities for certain courses and other finance sources that you might not have considered, such as the University’s Alumni Loyalty Scheme. This guide will help you understand what funding you might be entitled to, and how to go about applying for it.

Sunderland Alumni Loyalty Scheme

In recent years, the University of Sunderland has offered extra financial support to students who have previously graduated from a degree course at our University and then started a Masters or PhD course with us, either full-time or part-time.

In 2020/21, the University is continuing this support by offering our alumni a 20% tuition fee discount from the cost of their new course. For all of our previous graduates, whether UK, EU or International students, the 20% discount will simply be deducted from their tuition fee invoice on enrolment. This will be done automatically by the University – you do not need to apply for the discount.

Note that our PGCE courses and our M.Nurse (Adult) course do not qualify for this scheme. These courses are uniquely funded under the undergraduate model of UK funding as well as from other government bodies (Teacher Training Bursaries and NHS LSF grants respectively) rather than as postgraduate courses. See the specific information below.

Skills Boost North-East Discount 2020/21

If you do not qualify for the Alumni Loyalty Discount, you may instead qualify for the Skills Boost North East Discount if you satisfy the criteria. This is a new initiative from the University of Sunderland which aims to support the North East region in its response to COVID-19, through the provision of affordable opportunities for individuals to upskill and boost their career opportunities.

In light of the pressures of COVID-19 on local employers and businesses, and the necessary furloughing of employees and redundancy of roles, the University of Sunderland is offering a fee waiver of 20% on the full cost of course fees for specified postgraduate programmes. This will be available to any worker who has been furloughed, has been made redundant, or is likely to be made redundant. This also includes anyone who has graduated with an undergraduate degree from any university within the North East region in academic year 2019/20 and has been unable to secure full-time graduate employment due to pressures of COVID-19.

This discount will apply to specified full or part-time postgraduate courses on either of our Sunderland campuses and Dance City. You can find out more about this discount scheme, and the full criteria including course eligibility, at our scholarships page - UoS Scholarships - where you can download the terms and conditions

Government Postgraduate Loans: The Basics

In recent years, the Government introduced loans from the Student Loans Company for Masters and PhD students from the UK and EU. These are continuing in 2020/21. If you choose to receive a government loan for your Masters/PhD, you cannot also receive other government funding at the same time (e.g. an NHS Bursary for MA Social Work etc).

Another thing to bear in mind with postgraduate student loans is that they must be repaid alongside your undergraduate student loan (if you have one). Undergraduate loan repayments start when you are earning over £27,295 per year, and are 9% of your income that is over £27,295. Postgraduate loan repayments start when you are earning over £21,000 per year, and are 6% of your income over £21,000. Therefore, if you have an existing undergraduate loan, then take out a postgraduate loan, once you are earning £27,295 you will repay them together as 15% of your income over £27,295.


Government Postgraduate Loans: Masters

The Masters loans are up to £11,222 for the course and are available to students pursuing Masters degrees across all subjects - whether full-time, part-time, or distance learning.

  • A total of up to £11,222 can be borrowed, which can be used for your tuition fees and living costs (maintenance).
  • If studying full-time, the course must be no longer than 2 years in duration. If studying part-time, no longer than 4 years.
  • Loan will be split into termly instalments to the student over duration of their course. The onus is therefore on the student to manage their tuition fees payments to the University themselves.
  • Available to students who are under the age of 60 at the start of the course, and who do not already have a Masters qualification.
  • Masters course can be teaching-based or research-based, but must be the full Masters course, not partial.
  • Students who are claiming means-tested benefits while studying (e.g. lone parents claiming Housing Benefit) should note that only 30% of the maximum loan is taken into account for benefits purposes as income. Therefore 70% is disregarded.
  • As mentioned in the section above, loan repayments will be income-contingent (similar to undergraduate SLC loans) and repayments will not start until the April after you finish/leave your course.

More details on the application here - https://www.gov.uk/postgraduate-loan/how-to-apply  


Government Postgraduate Loans: PhD

The UK Government recently introduced loans for the first time to help students who wish to start PhD courses. The administration, payments and repayments models are very similar to the Postgraduate Masters Loans system (see above).

The main difference between the Masters Loan and the PhD Loan is the amount available for students to borrow. For PhD students, a loan of up to £26,445 is available, spread over the PhD course. The loan is not means-tested and is available for any subject area. Your PhD course must be between 3 and 8 years in duration to qualify for the Loan.

Disabled Student Allowance (DSA)

DSAs are available to postgraduate students to help with study related costs.  You apply to your national Student Finance office.  For example, English students would apply to Student Finance England.

Detailed information is available from the Student Finance website: www.gov.uk/disabled-students-allowances-dsas .

Contact our Disability Support Team who work alongside us in the Student Support Suite in the Edinburgh Building at City Campus for help in applying for DSAs.

PGCE funding

The undergraduate Student Finance system, providing Tuition Fees Loan and Maintenance Loan for undergraduate students, is also exceptionally paid for teacher training students - e.g. those studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) leading to QTS/QTLS.  We have all the information you need in our PGCE Teacher Training section of the site, including details of additional government training bursaries for those studying to teach in shortage subject areas.


Funding for postgraduate pre-reg healthcare courses (e.g. M.Nurse)

Postgraduate pre-registration healthcare courses, such as our M.Nurse (Adult) course, are treated exceptionally in the governments funding regulations. These courses still attract the undergraduate funding from the UK student finance systems, instead of the postgraduate loans system. Therefore you would be applying for:

  • undergraduate Student Finance from your national student finance body (e.g. Tuition Fee Loan, Maintenance Loan, etc from Student Finance England); and
  • the new Learning Support Fund grants from the NHS Business Services Authority.

Please see the Student Finance loans and grants information and the Extra NHS Funding section on our Nursing & Allied Health Profession Students for the up-to-date figures and how to apply.

Note: Due to the way that this course is funded directly by SFE and NHS, the course does not qualify for the Alumni Loyalty Fee Discount for postgraduate students.

Social Work Bursary (19/20 figures, as 20/21 not yet announced)

In recent years, a bursary has been provided to students training to become social workers.  This includes bursaries for students who have previously studied other subjects at degree level, and masters degree students. There are a limited amount of funded places allocated to each University - and unfortunately you cannot claim the bursary at the same time as the Postgraduate Masters Loan. The major benefit of receiving the bursary instead, however, is that - unlike the Loan - you do not have to repay it.

Postgraduate bursaries are awarded to eligible students for either part time or full time study. They consist of a tuition fees bursary of £4052, a basic grant (not means tested) and a maintenance grant (means tested), so the amount you receive depends on your circumstances. The figures for 2019/20 are below.

The basic grant (not means tested):

  • up to £3,362.50 a year if you attend a university outside of London
  • up to £3,762.50 if you attend a university inside of London

The maintenance grant (means tested) rate:

  • up to £2,721 a year if you attend a university outside of London
  • up to £4,201 a year if you attend a university inside of London

You may be able to apply for the following additional help, based on partner’s income:

  • The Adult Dependants Allowance (ADA)
  • Childcare Allowance
  • Parents Learning Allowance (PLA)
  • Disabled Students Allowances

More information is available on the NHS Business Services Authority website – https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/social-work-students

Research Councils

For postgraduate research students, this is another of the main sources of government funding in the UK.  To be eligible for a Research Council award you must be ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for at least 3 years before your application.  You normally need to have a 1st-Class or 2:1 Honours degree from a UK higher education institution.  The awards are offered on a competitive basis and in many areas only a small percentage of applicants are successful.

Detailed information on the funding available and the fields covered by the Research Councils can be found on the funding pages of the Prospects website www.prospects.ac.uk, FindaMasters www.findamasters.com, or from the Research Councils’ own websites:

Speak to the Programme Leader of your chosen course to see whether the programme attracts Research Council funding. Students are also advised to check the University’s job vacancy website, as studentships are also advertised here: http://services.sunderland.ac.uk/hr/staffrecruitment/vacancies/

Other Loans

Some banks offer deferred payment ‘professional study loans’. To qualify you would generally need to have a current account with the bank too, and the loans can be restricted by subject area. Check with your bank for their study loan options. 

Always check the terms and conditions of any loan you are considering, and make sure you understand the repayments and any charges before you sign an agreement.


Scholarships that provide full funding for postgraduate studies are rare; most scholarships tend to provide a contribution towards costs.  Some higher education institutions and professional institutions do have scholarship funds.  There is an internet search engine for scholarships – www.scholarship-search.org.uk

Also try:



https://targetpostgrad.com/advice/funding-advice (the Target Courses website)

https://www.prospects.ac.uk/postgraduate-study/phd-study/phd-studentships (information on PhD Studentships)

Charities & Trusts

Two major charities to fund postgraduate research are the Wellcome Trust  www.wellcome.ac.uk and the Professional Aid Council http://www.professionalsaid.org.uk/.

There are many other charities and trusts that can sometimes provide financial help to students – but their funding is limited and often only provides contributions on the basis of exceptional financial need/hardship.  They also tend to have wide ranging eligibility criteria.

Try the Grants Search on www.turn2us.org.uk and also at the Target Courses website: https://targetpostgrad.com/advice/funding-advice. You can find more info on PhD Studentships here - https://www.prospects.ac.uk/postgraduate-study/phd-study/phd-studentships

If you want any help with applications, let us know.

Other Public Funding Bodies

The Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) runs a Postgraduate Students’ Allowances Scheme which offers awards for professional and vocational training.  These awards are made to Scottish-domiciled students studying anywhere in the UK on short courses usually at diploma level.  The awards are discretionary rather than mandatory.  Check the SAAS website for further information – www.saas.gov.uk

The Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland (DELNI) provides funding for Northern Ireland-domiciled students and students from the rest of the UK who wish to study at postgraduate level in Northern Ireland.  EEA students may receive a fees only award.  You need to be ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland at the time of application.  DELNI also provides funding for full-time study in vocational courses.  Check the DELNI website for further information – www.delni.gov.uk

Other sources

It may also be useful to contact your Faculty of study, as they may have information on sources of funding over and above that which is available to the Student Financial Guidance Team. For example, in recent years our Faculties have secured funding for Careers Guidance courses, and some Science/ICT areas. You could ask the Programme Leader whether there is any funding for the course you are looking to study, and/or where the current cohort of students are getting their funding from.

If your course is a vocational course, further funding information may also be available from the national professional body for your chosen career.

University Hardship Fund

Postgraduate students are eligible to apply to UHF, administered by the University.  It is intended, however, to offer assistance to students facing exceptional costs or financial difficulties.  Postgraduate students are expected to have substantive funding available for their studies and UHF will not ‘top up’ the income of those who have started their course without securing sufficient funding. It also cannot be used to pay tuition fees.

The Fund is administered by the University's own Student Support Funds Office. You can find out more on their webpages here.

Funding to study a 2nd undergraduate degree

If you are planning on studying a second undergraduate degree course (i.e. you already have a bachelors degree and want to study another new bachelors degree) you are generally NOT eligible for help from the Student Finance system for Fees Loans and Maintenance Loans (exceptions being for teacher training QTS courses, Nursing, some Allied Health Professions, and - for Maintenance - Medicine and Social Work). Entitlement to dependants grants and disability support from Student Finance can still be assessed for a second degree however. 

As mentioned above, the Student Finance system can still pay Disabled Student Allowance for Postgraduate Students. It is not means-tested, and is based on the equipment, travel, and non-medical assistance costs that you incur on your course as a result of your disability. Speak to our Disability Support Team if you need more details.

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