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Postgraduate education for disabled students

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Disability Rights UK Factsheet F52

1 Introduction

A postgraduate course can be a Master's degree (MA, MSc, MEd, MPhil); a doctorate (PhD); a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE); or other postgraduate diplomas.

There are many reasons to choose postgraduate study. Some people really enjoy their subject and want to learn more about it. For others it’s about pursuing their chosen career, enhancing their job prospects or changing to a new vocational area.

The advantages of postgraduate study need to be weighed against practical considerations, especially cost. If you’re finding it hard to get a job after graduation, it’s tempting to stay on in education. However it’s important to research whether postgraduate study really will help you get the job you want. In some cases work experience may be a better way to get the skills you need.

Successful completion of a postgraduate course requires commitment and motivation so choosing the right course is essential.

As well as the issues faced by all postgraduates, you may also need to consider, for example, what facilities the college or university provides.

The Premia resource base contains a range of awareness and development materials for supervisors, careers advisers and students and gives an insight into the issues faced by disabled postgraduate research students. You can find the Premia materials and other resources and support for disabled researchers in the Every Researcher Counts pages of the vitae website www.vitae.ac.uk/doing-research/every-researcher-counts-equality-and-diversity-in-researcher-careers/resources-and-support-for-disabled-researchers.

Getting money to do a postgraduate course can be very hard and many people have to get funding from a number of different sources. You may need money for course fees, living costs and for extra costs related to your disability.

Students are able to apply for a postgraduate loan of up to £10,280 to study taught or research Masters degrees. See below for more information. As with undergraduate courses, postgraduate loans have to be repaid once you’re earning a salary of £21,000 or above.

Extra financial support is available for people to train and work in certain professional shortage areas, for example students taking full-time PGCE courses (see section 4 for more details).

2 Choosing and applying for a postgraduate course

Choosing a course

When choosing which postgraduate course to apply for, you may find it useful to speak to a careers adviser. You can usually use the careers service where you studied for up to three years after graduation or you may be able to use the service at your nearest university.

Local authorities should provide careers advice up until the age of 25 if you have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan. Alternatively, adults aged 19 and over can get face-to-face guidance by calling 0800 100 900 to make an appointment with an adviser at their nearest National Careers Service Centre.

Careers advice is also available from Skills Development Scotland and Careers Wales.

Prospects has a graduate careers website which contains comprehensive information about postgraduate study, a database that allows you to search for courses and profiles of institutions offering postgraduate study. The web address is www.prospects.ac.uk,

There are a number of other searchable online databases of postgraduate courses including findamasters.com and studylink.co.uk.

The Disability Rights UK Into Higher Education 2017 guide includes up-to-date information on the student support arrangements across the UK. It features case studies of students writing about their own experiences, giving an insight into what it is like to be a disabled student in higher education.

Applying for a course

You can apply directly to individual institutions if you’re applying for a Masters or doctorate. They’ll send you a prospectus and an application form. Check the closing dates, as they are different for each institution.  Students applying for PGCE, Social Work degrees or postgraduate law courses need to apply to the relevant admission services. See Section 4 for more details.

If the application form for the course doesn’t ask about your impairment you may wish to write to the institution to explain your needs and find out about what arrangements can be put in place.

Under the Equality Act 2010, all universities and colleges have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their services, so disabled students are not placed at a substantial disadvantage. All institutions also have a student support or disability office so you should be able to discuss how your individual needs will be met.

3 Funding for disability-related costs

Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)

You may need extra financial support with your studies due to your impairment. For example, you might have extra travel costs, or you might need specialist equipment or personal assistance such as a communication support worker or British sign language interpreter. A needs assessment will usually be required from an accredited assessment centre. Needs assessments can be paid for out of Disabled Students' Allowances.  However, DSAs cannot pay for diagnostic assessments for specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

DSAs can pay for course-related disability needs. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most postgraduate DSAs are different to undergraduate DSAs as there is only one allowance for all costs. The maximum amount for 2017/18 is £10,652 per year to cover all specialist equipment, non-medical help, general expenditure and travel. However, the overall amount can be higher for research council funding and certain programmes like teaching.  In Scotland DSAs are available at the undergraduate rates and as three separate allowances.

If you received DSAs during your undergraduate course and begin postgraduate study straight after you graduate, your needs may not have changed.  In this case, you may not need a new needs assessment. Any specialist equipment that has already been given to you may be taken into account. However, if it no longer meets your needs it can be upgraded or replaced.

Research degree study is different from undergraduate or taught Masters programmes and this means that your support requirements may also be different, e.g. you may be expected to attend conferences, to give presentations, have the opportunity to teach undergraduates. It’s good to look at the implications of this at an early stage.

Students doing more than one part-time course at the same time can only apply for one allowance. DSAs are not means-tested.

Please note: Disabled Students’ Allowances cannot pay for fees or living costs.

You can receive DSAs if your course is:

  • A designated course such as research and taught Master’s, doctorates, diplomas and certificates.
  • A course that would normally require a first degree or equivalent before entry.
  • A minimum of one year in length.

If your course is part-time, your pace of study needs to average at least 25% of the full-time equivalent. This means it should not take more than four times as long to complete as the full-time version.

In England, unless otherwise stated, applications should be made to Student Finance England.

In Wales you should apply to your Student Finance Wales.

In Northern Ireland, DSAs are paid by Student Finance Northern Ireland. Applications should be made through your regional Education Authority if you’re receiving a postgraduate bursary.

In Scotland, unless you get your fees funded from a research council or the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), you can apply for DSAs from the Students Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) at the same levels as undergraduate DSAs. The 2017/2018 allowances for full-time postgraduate students in Scotland are shown below.

  • Equipment allowance - £5,160
  • Basic allowance - £1,726 pa
  • Non-medical helper allowance - £20,520 pa

If you receive a research council award, such as a studentship, you will be eligible for the DSAs administered by your research council. They usually award DSAs on the same basis as Student Finance companies and their DSA rates are similar. See section 6 on Research Council funding for more information.

For postgraduate teaching, law and social work courses, please see section 4 for more detail.

If you’re an Open University student you must be registered for an OU postgraduate level course that lasts for at least one year and does not take more than four times as long to complete as an equivalent full-time course. This will usually mean that the course amounts to at least 30 credit points each year. However, you may be able to study fewer points in some years as long as you make up the difference in other years. You should apply directly to the OU for support, unless you live in Scotland in which case you should still apply to SAAS for DSAs on OU courses.

If you’re an International student you need to be ordinarily resident in the UK for three years and meet other residency conditions before you’re eligible.

Further information on DSAs is available in Disability Rights UK’s information factsheet Applying for Disabled Students' Allowances

Further funding

If you’re not eligible for DSAs or they don’t cover the full cost of your support, you may be able to get funding from the university’s hardship or discretionary fund or a charitable trust. See section 7 for more details.

4 Postgraduate loan for Masters degree

A postgraduate loan of up to £10,280 is available to students starting taught or research Masters Degrees from 2017. You can use the loan for tuition fees, living costs and other study related expenses as you see fit. The loans are not means-tested and you can borrow regardless of your income or savings. You will not be able to apply for a postgraduate loan if you already hold a qualification at Masters level or above.

You can receive a loan to study a part-time Masters for up to four years. You must progress at 50% of the intensity of a full-time student. If you began your Masters in 2016, you can only receive payments of up to £5,000 per year during the first two years of the course. If you begin your Masters in 2017 you can receive payments throughout your course. This means you can receive up to £2,570 in each year of a four year, part-time course.


Postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 have been introduced for the 2017/18 academic year if you are resident and studying in Scotland. There are two parts to the Scottish postgraduate loan: £5,500 is available for tuition fees and paid directly to your university and £4,500 is available for living costs. You will make repayments on an income-contingent basis, at 9% of income over £17,495 a year. In Scotland apply to Student Awards Agency Scotland.


Welsh postgraduate loans are similar to those offered in England. Students can apply for a postgraduate loan of up to £10,280 for taught and research Masters degrees from 2017/18 academic year. You will make repayments on an income-contingent basis at 6% of earnings over £21,000. In Wales apply to Student Finance Wales.

Northern Ireland

Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland cover tuition fees of up to £5,500 and are available towards the cost of a Masters degree, Postgraduate Certificate or a Postgraduate Diploma. The loan is not available for living costs. In Northern Ireland apply to Student Finance Northern Ireland.

5 Postgraduate professional qualifications


Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)

The PGCE course is the most popular route into teaching for graduates. A full-time PGCE course generally takes one year, although a flexible course can be shorter and is available for both primary and secondary teaching. To start a PGCE course, you must have a UK undergraduate degree or an equivalent qualification. For primary-level teaching, your degree can be in any subject, although you’re more likely to be accepted onto a course if your degree subject knowledge is in one of the subjects of the National Curriculum. For secondary-level teaching, your first degree must be related to the subject you wish to teach.

Studying in England

Institutions in England are allowed to charge up to £9,250 per year for full-time PGCE courses starting in 2017. The same general student support is available as for undergraduate courses. This includes tuition-fee loans and student loans for living costs. Students starting postgraduate teacher training need to have at least a second class degree in order to receive funding.

Part-time study

Support with fees is also available to part-time PGCE students, as well as student loans for living costs. Please contact your awarding authority.

Postgraduate bursaries

Bursaries or scholarships of up to £25,000 are available for trainees on certain postgraduate courses but the amount varies depending on your teaching subject and undergraduate degree class.

Physics, mathematics, chemistry, computing, geography and modern languages are the main priority subjects. However other secondary subjects and primary teaching courses will attract bursaries if you have a first class degree or an upper second. 

For eligibility details and further information contact the Get Into Teaching Line run by the Department for Education.

Tel: 0800 389 2500

Website: https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/

PGCE students are eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) to cover the extra costs of studying due to disability. Part-time students are eligible on a pro-rata basis. PGCE courses qualify for the same amounts as undergraduate courses.

Disabled Students’ Allowances 2017/18

  • Equipment - £5,358
  • General expenses - £1,790 pa
  • Non-medical helper - £21,305 pa


You can apply for a PGCE through UCAS Teacher Training application service.

UCAS Teacher Training

Tel: 0371 468 0469
Website: https://www.ucas.com/ucas/teacher-training/ucas-teacher-training-apply-and-track


Universities and colleges in Wales can charge up to £9,000 per year for their courses. If you’re studying a postgraduate Initial Teacher Education (ITE) course which leads to a qualification such as a PGCE you can get help with the costs of the teacher training. Postgraduate ITE courses attract funding in the same way as other undergraduate courses. You can get a tuition fee loan of up to £4,296 to cover the initial cost and a grant to cover the rest of the fees. You may also be eligible for help with your living costs.

Studying in Scotland

Scottish students taking Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) programmes have their tuition fees paid in full by the Scottish Executive. If you’re from England, Wales or Northern Ireland you will have to pay tuition fees of around £9,250. Other general student support is available, including student loans. Although students who have previously studied at postgraduate level do not normally receive support from SAAS, those undertaking a PGDE in a priority subject can get funding towards their living costs. You can get more information about the priority subject areas from SAAS.

Studying in Northern Ireland

If you live in Northern Ireland the maximum tuition fee is £3,925. This fee does not need to be paid up front.


Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)

The GDL (also known as the Common Professional Exam or CPE) is a one-year conversion course to enable non-law graduates to complete the foundations of legal knowledge required before undertaking the professional training to become a solicitor or a barrister. The Law Society maintains an up-to-date list of GDL courses. For a place on a full-time course, you should make an application through the Central Applications Board.

Legal Practice Course (LPC)

The LPC which follows the qualifying law degree or GDL is the next stage for aspiring solicitors. A student guide produced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority is available from the Law Society.

Central Applications Board

LPC & GDL Central Applications Board

PO Box 84, Guildford, Surrey GU3 1YX

Email: applications@lawcabs.ac.uk

Tel: 01483 451 080

The Law Society

Website: www.lawsociety.org.uk

Bar Vocational Course (BVC)
The BVC follows either the law degree or the CPE as the next stage of vocational training for those seeking to become a barrister. It is a one-year course.

Further information on how to qualify as a barrister and Continuing Professional Development is available from www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/qualifying-as-a-barrister.

Scottish students wishing to become a solicitor should contact the Law Society of Scotland.

Tel: 0131 226 7411
Email: lawscot@lawscot.org.uk
Web: www.lawscot.org.uk


Financing the GDL, LPC or BVC can be expensive. General sources of funding include bank loan schemes, Professional and Career Development Loans (for the LPC or BVC) and charities or grant-making trusts.

The Law Society gives a limited number of bursaries for CPE and LPC courses based on ability and hardship. It also has a Diversity Access Scheme (DAS) which aims to increase social diversity in the legal profession by supporting promising entrants from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who face exceptional obstacles to qualification.

Diversity Access Scheme

Equality Diversity and Inclusion Team

The Law Society

113 Chancery Lane

London WC2A 1PL

Email: diversityaccessscheme@lawsociety.org.uk

Web: www.lawsociety.org.uk/law-careers/diversity-access-scheme/

Sponsorship may be available from law firms, mainly for LPC courses. Inns of Court give bursaries for the CPE and BVC. You can get further information on these sources of funding from Students Officers at the Inns of Court.

Disabled Students' Allowances

DSAs are available on designated CPE, LPC and BVC courses at particular institutions. Students need to apply to their Student Finance company for this support.

In Scotland the Scottish Awards Agency for Scotland give awards for full-time vocational courses. Awards include Disabled Students’ Allowances. See section 5 Regional Funding for more details. 

Social work

The professional qualifying training for social workers is a degree in social work approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) www.hpc-uk.org. Students already with a first degree in another subject can enter a two-year programme offered by some universities and colleges.


You can apply for a degree in social work through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Search for postgraduate programmes using UCAS postgraduate application service UKPASS.


Web: www.ucas.ac.uk


In England the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) administers funding for study-based postgraduate Social Work students in England. This funding generally includes: tuition fees, a non-means tested basic grant and a means-tested maintenance grant. DSAs are available at the undergraduate rates.

NHS Business Services Authority
Social Work Bursaries, P.O Box 141, Hesketh House, 200-220 Broadway, Fleetwood FY7 9AS

Web: www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/students
Email: Complete an online enquiry form
Tel: 0300 330 1342

In Wales Social Care Wales administers funding for study-based Social Work students who are ordinarily resident in Wales and study in Wales. You can find information on the social work bursary here: https://socialcare.wales/careers/social-work-bursary-funding.   

Social Care Wales

Social Care Wales, South Gate House, Wood Street, Cardiff, CF10

Web: www.socialcare.wales/careers/student-funding
Email: studentfundingandgrants@socialcare.wales
Tel: 029 2078 0680

In Scotland, SAAS will pay the tuition fees for all eligible full-time Scottish and EU students on undergraduate social work courses.  For postgraduate students, the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) may award bursaries to full-time students, however these are limited and all applications are assessed against certain criteria.  Bursaries consist of tuition fees, maintenance grants, allowances and expenses.  Please contact the SSSC for further information. The SSSC can also offer support towards disability-related costs. 

Scottish Social Services Council

Compass House, 11 Riverside Drive, Dundee DD1 4NY
Tel: 0345 60 30 891
Web: www.sssc.uk.com

Medicine, Health and Biomedical Sciences:

If you’re already working in the NHS, your employer may sponsor you to study at postgraduate level. If you’re seconded by your employer you should apply to Student Finance England for your DSAs, or the usual awarding authority in other areas of the UK.

If you get an NHS Bursary towards fees or living costs you should instead apply to NHS Student Bursaries directly for Disabled Students’ Allowances. Postgraduate NHS DSAs are paid at the undergraduate rates.

6 Regional funding

Some students may receive funding from their regional government.

Studying in Northern Ireland

From 2017/18 postgraduate loans of up to £5,500 are available towards the cost of tuition fees for a Master’s degree, Postgraduate Certificate and Postgraduate Diplomas. You can apply via the Student Finance Northern Ireland Website.

The Department for the Economy also makes available funding to Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster for research and certain approved courses of full-time study leading to higher degrees. The universities are responsible for administering the postgraduate awards scheme and the universities select, by competition, the students to fill these awards within the limits of the funding available.

Department for the Economy

Department for the Economy
Massey Avenue, Belfast BT4 2jp
Tel: (028) 9052 9900

Email: dfemail@economy-ni.gov.uk
Website: www.economy-ni.gov.uk

Studying in Scotland

Students Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS)

From 2017/18 postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 are available for Masters Degrees and Postgraduate Diplomas. There are two types of postgraduate loan available: a tuition fee loan and a living cost loan. Eligible students can borrow up to £5,500 for tuition fees and up to £4,500 for living costs (full-time courses only and only for students under the age of 60).

You can apply for the loan online at the SAAS website.

Student Awards Agency for Scotland

Saughton House, Broomhouse Drive, Edinburgh EH11 3UT
Tel: 0300 555 0505 (postgraduate and DSAs enquiries)     

Website: www.saas.gov.uk. Email through the website by selecting an enquiry subject and completing an online form.

7. Research council and other public funding

You can get government-funded research grants, studentships or fellowships for some postgraduate courses, but it is mostly for postgraduate research. The awards mainly come from research councils that cover an area of study. For example, the Arts and Humanities Research Board oversees the humanities and certain other professional and vocational subjects. Most taught postgraduate courses do not attract research council funding. Universities and colleges will know if any of their courses attract bursaries. The research councils publish a list of the academic departments they have approved for funding each year, which you can find at your university or careers service.

Not all postgraduate courses attract studentships and not all students on those that do will be eligible to receive one. All research council awards are made through university departments, so apply through the department where you want to study. Only one research council (if any) will fund the course you’re interested in, so only apply to the relevant one. Research councils devolve most of the administration of their Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) direct to institutions and, unless otherwise indicated, your application should be made through your university. The university may be required to confirm that you have provided evidence of your disability, that an assessment of your needs has been carried out and that they are satisfied that any extra costs are essential to your study.

Research Councils do not have set rates for DSAs. However, generally the level of funding for DSAs is similar to undergraduate rates which are:

Disabled Students’ Allowances 2017/18

Maximum amounts

  • Equipment - £5,358
  • General expenses - £1,790 pa
  • Non-medical helper - £21,305 pa

These allowances are not the same as the Postgraduate DSAs available from Student Finance (explained in section 3). If you get a research council award for fees and/or maintenance costs, you can only receive funding for DSAs from that research council.

Research council details

The UK Research Councils include BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC and STFC. The main website is www.rcuk.ac.uk. Individual contact details for each research council can be found later on in the factsheet.

If you want to undertake postgraduate study at the European University Institute in Florence, you may be eligible for student support from the Department for Education.

The regulations providing such support are the Education (student support) (European University Institute) regulations 2010 (S.I. 2010/447). For more information please visit


Other research funding and sources of information

The Guardian education supplement on Tuesdays and the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine both carry information on research positions and grants available.

8 Finding other sources of funding

The government is currently consulting on plans to offer PhD loans of up to £25,000. This new scheme is scheduled to start from 2018. As with undergraduate and postgraduate loans, these would have to be repaid once you’re earning a salary of £21,000 or above.

If you’re not able to get a loan, bursary, scholarship or discretionary grant, you will need to investigate getting your own funding. Many students try to get funding or sponsorship through trusts or companies, although it is difficult to get full funding for fees, equipment, specialist support and everyday living costs. Often students have to get money from a variety of sources. College libraries and careers services keep copies of directories. The Prospects website has lots of information on funding options at www.prospects.ac.uk/funding_my_further_study.htm.

Hardship/Discretionary funds

These schemes are broadly similar across the UK. Each institution administers the funds which are available to support students experiencing financial hardship. Priority is often given to part-time students, students with children, mature students, disabled students, final year students and care leavers over the age of 18 and homeless students. The amount you get is decided by the university or college. It can be paid as a non-repayable grant or as a loan which you have to repay. Contact student services at your university or college for details on how to apply.

Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs) and Graduate Research Assistantships (GRAs)

Postgraduate students may get a maintenance grant or a fee waiver in return for working for the university. Full-time postgraduates do an average of six to eight hours teaching a week. This can include classroom teaching, tutorials, laboratory demonstrations and paper marking. Working conditions and benefits vary from place to place. Most GTAs and GRAs are advertised internally, but some are advertised in the academic press.

Charitable trusts

Disability Rights UK produces a factsheet on funding from charitable trusts, including some trusts which can help disabled students doing postgraduate courses.

Welfare benefits

Most full-time students can’t claim welfare benefits. However, if you’re living with a health condition or disability, you may still be able to apply for the benefits listed in this section. It is important to tell the Benefits Agency or Jobcentre Plus and other relevant agencies that you’re starting a course as this counts as a change in circumstance.

For individual advice it’s best to speak with a welfare rights specialist in the student money advice team at your university or college or try your local Citizens Advice Bureau www.citizensadvice.org.uk/getadvice.htm.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

You can continue to receive DLA as a postgraduate student. Starting college or university does not usually result in DWP reassessing your entitlement. If your condition has changed in a way that means you qualify for a different rate, or your award is due to end, you may have to claim PIP instead. If you get DLA you can receive more support with living costs than other students.

DLA is gradually ending for people of working age. Most people with a current DLA award will start to be contacted about Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and re-assessed by the end of October 2018.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is for people who need help taking part in everyday life or who find it difficult to get around. PIP replaces DLA for people between the ages of 16 and 64. Sometimes the activities you do as part of your course can suggest that your daily living or mobility needs have changed and you can be asked to undergo a reassessment. You are entitled to more support with living costs if you get PIP as explained above for DLA.

Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

As a full-time student, you can only claim income-related ESA if you also receive DLA or PIP. You’ll be treated as having a limited capability for work without having to pass the work capability assessment. You may still have to complete an ESA50 form and attend a face to face assessment but this should be only to determine whether you meet the criteria for the work-related activity group or the support group.

If you’re entitled to a postgraduate loan 30% of it will be considered as income (even if you don’t take it out) and the amount of income-related ESA will be reduced.

Housing Benefit

Normally you can’t claim housing benefit if you’re a full-time student. However, there are some exceptions that allow some students to claim. For example, you may be able to claim if you receive any part of DLA or PIP or you’ve had limited capability for work acknowledged for the last 28 weeks (although you don’t have to be receiving ESA to qualify). You may also be able to claim Housing Benefit if you’re registered blind, or receive Disabled Students’ Allowances because you’re deaf.

Housing Benefit can be paid towards the cost of living in halls provided by your university or college, as well as if you live in private rented accommodation. You may also be entitled to help towards the cost of an extra bedroom if you need an overnight carer. Contact your local authority for details.

If you’re entitled to a postgraduate loan (even if you don’t take it out) 30% of it will be considered as income and may affect the rate of housing benefit paid.  

Tax Credits

Means-tested Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit should not be affected by studying as long as you meet the eligibility criteria. Both credits are treated as income when calculating entitlement to other welfare benefits.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit (UC) is a new benefit for people on low incomes which will gradually replace most means-tested benefits and tax credits. Most full-time students are not able to claim UC, but there are exceptions to this rule.  For example, if you have been assessed as having a ‘limited capability for work’ following a work capability assessment and receive either Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment. UC has not yet been fully rolled out to all areas and your benefits office will be able to confirm if you’re required to claim UC or not. Higher education students eligible for UC will be placed in the ‘no work-related requirements’ group while they’re studying if they’re in receipt of a student loan. Normally this applies over the academic year. UC is means-tested. If you’re entitled to a postgraduate loan, this may be counted as income (even if you choose not to take it) and affect the rate paid to you.

Professional and Career Development Loans

You may be eligible to apply for a Professional and Career Development Loan to fund your course. The course can be full-time, part-time, or use open or distance learning methods. Professional and Career Development Loans come with special terms and are designed to help people pay for training for their own careers. To be eligible:

  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • You must be taking a course that prepares you for the work you want to do.
  • You must not already have access to enough money from other sources for the same purpose or have savings over £16,000.
  • The course must be provided by an organisation on the Professional Career and Development Loan register.

Professional and Career Development Loans can usually only be given to fund two years of study. However, in certain circumstances the loan may be given for a longer course, such as one that includes work experience. You can apply up to 3 months before starting a course. The loan can cover course fees and other course-related expenses. You can borrow up to 80% of the cost of fees (or up to 100 per cent if you’ve been unemployed for three months) plus the full cost of books, equipment, travel and childcare. If you’re a full-time student you may also be able to get part of the loan to assist with living costs. The amount you can borrow is between £300 and £10,000. The government will pay the interest on your loan while you’re studying – and for one month after you’ve left your course.

The Professional and Career Development Loan is only offered by The Co-operative Bank.

Call the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900 for further information and advice or visit nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/courses/funding/Pages/loans.aspx .

Other bank loans

You can ask banks for a loan for your course. They are more likely to fund you if the course will improve your earnings prospects, for example, a professional or vocational course. Certain banks will have specific professional studies loans for particular courses, such as, pharmacy, engineering or dentistry. Banks also often have graduate loans with better than usual interest rates.

Check the terms of the loan and compare what different banks offer. Look at:

  • the amount you can borrow
  • interest rates
  • arrangement fees if any
  • repayment deferring options – normally between three months and one year
  • qualifying conditions, like age or residency.

Think carefully before taking on extra debt as a graduate.

Employer sponsorship

Some employers will sponsor you to take postgraduate study. Usually they require you to work for them for a minimum length of time once you qualify. Sponsorship is more common for vocational and professional postgraduate qualifications. Speak to a careers adviser or try contacting employers in the industry you would like to work in to find out if they would sponsor you for your course.


Many postgraduate students supplement their income by working. Often there is work available at the institution where you’re studying, including teaching, supervising undergraduates, being a research assistant or working in the library. There may also be non-academic part-time or casual work in the area. Your students’ union may have details of local jobs. Alternatively look in the local press, the job centre or the careers service.

Part-time study

Many postgraduate courses can be taken part-time over two or three years (longer for PhDs). In fact, the majority of postgraduate students study part time. In this way students can support themselves financially with a job whilst studying. Some institutions will allow students to swap from full-time to part-time study once they have started the course. You can check with the institution whether you can study your course part-time.

9. Further information

Disability Rights UK Disabled Students Helpline

For further information on the support that is available for disabled students, please contact our Disabled Students Helpline - 0330 995 0414.

We also produce a range of education factsheets covering these subjects and frequently asked questions which you can access through the education and skills section of our website at disabilityrightsuk.org.

Into Higher Education 2017

Into Higher Education includes up-to-date information on the student support arrangements across the UK. It features case studies of students writing about their own experiences, giving an insight into what it is like to be a disabled student in higher education.

Other useful information



Useful resources in their Special Interest Series include: About postgrad study, Your degree, what next? and Your Masters, what next?



GRANTfinder is a grants and policy database. It is a subscription-only service but you may find it available free in careers services, colleges and universities.

Useful Contacts

Association of MBAs

Tel: 020 7246 2686

Email: info@mbaworld.com

Website: www.mbaworld.com

Citizens Advice Bureau

To find your local Citizens Advice Bureau please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Lead Scotland

Tel: 0131 228 9441
Textphone: 18001 131 228 9441
Helpline: 0800 999 2568

Email: info@lead.org.uk
Website: www.lead.org.uk

Organisation enabling disabled adults and carers to access inclusive learning opportunities in Scotland. Lead also runs an information and advice service for disabled students in Scotland.

Open University

Tel: 0300 303 5303

Website: www.open.ac.uk

Research Councils

Current Research Council-funded students should first contact the nominated studentship contact at their Higher Education institution.

For new enquiries about registration, submitting applications and grant maintenance requests, contact the Je-S helpdesk:

Email: jeSHelp@rcuk.ac.uk

Tel: 01793 444164

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Website: www.ahrc.ac.uk

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

Website: www.bbsrc.ac.uk

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)     

Website: www.esrc.ac.uk

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Website: www.epsrc.ac.uk

Medical Research Council (MRC)                                 

Website: www.mrc.ac.uk

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)      

Website: www.nerc.ac.uk

Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

Website: www.stfc.ac.uk

25 August 2017

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