Education & Family

Include poorer over 30s in master's loans, ministers urged

Students in library
Image caption Masters students over 30 are often from disadvantaged groups, say the authors

Disadvantaged students aged over 30 could miss out under a proposed loan scheme for master's degrees, warns a report.

Postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 for under 30-year-olds in England were announced by Chancellor George Osborne in last year's Autumn statement.

But the report from a group of universities says older students from disadvantaged groups also need support.

A government response to a consultation on the scheme is due later this year.

'Revolutionise'

Mr Osborne said the loan scheme would "revolutionise" access to postgraduate university courses as the cost too often "deters bright students from poorer backgrounds".

The new loans will be available from next year and are expected to benefit 40,000 students.

The government anticipates 10,000 more students will enter postgraduate study.

The report, by a group of six institutions led by University of Sheffield, urges the government to consider whether the age restriction should be waived for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Students with disabilities, who have caring responsibilities, who are from poorer families without a background in higher education or who may have been in the care system as children, often take longer to progress through the education system and so will be older by the time they are ready for postgraduate study, the authors argue.

'Under-represented'

They are under-represented in universities and are more likely to need financial support, says the report.

It also says a loan scheme could fail to attract more students from under-represented groups into postgraduate study as they will be put off by the prospect of more debt.

Instead it suggests a separate scholarship scheme for people from under-represented groups taking master's degrees.

Last year these six universities piloted such a scheme, which offered grants of £10,000 for 350 master's students from under-represented groups.

Half of the £5.3m budget came from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, with the rest provided by the six universities themselves.

The project found that a fifth of the scholarship holders were aged over 30.

"Our research found that those who came from lower socio-economic groups were more likely to be debt averse" - especially those who lack their own resources of access to family assistance to help pay the costs of study, the authors conclude.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokeswoman said the government wanted "everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education to be able to do so".

"The government recognises that access to finance can be a barrier for some people who want to continue their studies, which is why for the first time we have announced proposals to introduce postgraduate loans," the spokeswoman said.

"We have invited the sector to contribute views to a consultation and will publish our response in due course."

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