Costs and funding
Funding your postgraduate study
Funding is without doubt the major concern for many considering postgraduate study. Having just endured the financial constraints of undergraduate study, the considerable costs of postgraduate study can be daunting, especially with the additional uncertainty caused by the pandemic. However, there are supports in place and with plenty of planning, and factoring in the necessary time, there are funding programmes that you may be able to take advantage of to help ease the financial burden.
Your first step should be to check the website of the institution you are interested in to find out exactly how much you can expect to pay in tuition fees. Because of the current situation, the Irish government is considering a reduced fees regime as part of a €168 million support package for the third level sector. Monitor the website and social media channels of your chosen institution, and national media, for updates on this.
Alternative upskilling and reskilling opportunities are also available via the Springboard and ICT Skills initiatives.
See springboardcourses.ie for further information on eligibility and entry requirements. The Irish government, in response to the pandemic, has added 17,000 new places to this scheme. 13,000 places will commence in 2020, with the additional 4,000 places coming on stream over the next 2 years.
This includes an additional 2,129 places on both programmes, as a result of investment by the Government of an additional €10 m in response to the Covid-19 pandemic:
11,074 places on 332 courses under Springboard+ 2020
5,891 places on 93 courses over three years for Human Capital Initiative (HCI) Pillar 1.
Places are available on courses in a wide range of skills areas, including artificial intelligence, smart factory technology, sustainable energy, medical device technology and cybersecurity.
This additional funding, combined with the new HCI Pillar 1 courses leads to 7,600 more places available over three years to those who wish to upskill or reskill compared with 2019.
Students applying for postgraduate courses should check their eligibility for a grant on the postgraduate section of www.susi.ie. There is a dedicated section of the SUSI site dealing with the pandemic and how it can affect grants and payments. Tax relief is also available on postgraduate tuition fees. Details in relation to this relief are available from the Revenue Commissioners, revenue.ie.
The government’s support package is also designed to provide technical support by assigning €24 million for students to obtain laptops to ensure they can make full use of remote learning options as the date of a full return to campuses is still uncertain. This is part of the student assistance fund, which you can apply for through your university or college.
Maintenance and accommodation
You will also need to factor in your living costs: while awards cover fees, they are unlikely to support living costs in full. You can often find useful cost of living tables on university or student union websites. For example, NUI Galway estimates living costs at around €12,150 for a nine-month academic year. The Irish Times reported last year that the cost in Dublin was around €12,500 but we would consider that to be a very conservative estimate based on the spiralling rent costs in the capital. Accommodation is probably the largest item of expenditure for most students, particularly during these times of rising rents. There is an increasing amount of dedicated student apartment complexes in the city, but prices for these units can be prohibitively high. The other option is to live on campus where rents for an academic year can range from €3,500 to €5,500 but can rise to higher than €7,000 in some institutions. Most institutions provide comprehensive assistance, in terms of information only, regarding costs of living. Students should also be aware of the emergency legislation introduced on 27 March 2020 and which has been extended by Government Order, this has brought restrictions to ending a tenancy and increasing rent amounts during the emergency period, as determined by government. You are expected to pay rent during the emergency period. Any rent arrears built up will be payable, but landlords have been asked to show understanding and reach local arrangements in these circumstances. If you have problems paying your rent during the emergency period, you should engage as soon as possible with your landlord, or engage with the Residential Tenancies Board at www.rtb.ie.
Tracking down funding sources –four ways to find help
Help from your university
Many universities offer scholarships and bursaries to postgraduate students, check the universities’ websites for details as the pandemic may had had an effect in terms of how and if funding is awarded. Some funding may be attached to a particular course or given to students undergoing financial hardship. Several Irish institutions offer postgraduate funding for research degrees, on a competitive basis. You should also check individual departments, which may, for example, have funding awarded to research teams (particularly in science and engineering).
Applications for university funding are often made at the same time as for academic places on a specific funding application form. The North-South Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme offers funding to postgraduates undertaking a recognised master’s or first year of a PhD programme, taught or research, in the other Irish jurisdiction. The 2019 scholarships were worth €15,000 (approximately £13,000) each, and there were five available for 2020 with another five available for 2021. The dates for applications normally appear before the start of each academic year and close the following May. Further details are available from universitiesireland.ie.
Help from the government
State support for postgraduate students exists but can be difficult to access, depending on the level of a student’s reckonable income; they may qualify for either a Postgraduate Fee Contribution of €2,000 or a Postgraduate Fee Grant, up to a maximum of €6,270, towards the cost of their fees.
Postgraduate students who are eligible for the Postgraduate Fee Contribution of €2,000 are not eligible to receive the maintenance grant. However, students who are eligible for the Postgraduate Fee Grant (Special rate) are also entitled to the special rate of maintenance grant. See www.studentfinance.ie and www.susi.ie for details. Postgraduates may get financial assistance under the Student grant Scheme with the cost of tuition fees for approved postgraduate courses in Ireland and Northern Ireland. There is no assistance under the Scheme for courses elsewhere in the EU. There are 2 ways postgraduates may qualify for assistance under the Student grant Scheme. They may either get a new flat rate fee contribution of €2,000, if they pass the fee contribution means test or get all their tuition fees paid and essential field trips (up to €6,270). Excellent general information is available at www.citizensinformation.ie
There is no mandatory support for postgraduate study in Northern Ireland but you may be able to apply for help through your college or university under the Access to Learning Fund and the Additional Fee Support Scheme. For students in Northern Ireland, the disabled Students Allowance (DSA) could pay for extra costs incurred as a direct result of a disability – for advice, contact SKILL at www.skill.org.uk. Other than the disabled Students’ Allowance, there is currently no standard student support package available for postgraduate students from the Student Loans Company. However, from the beginning of academic year 2017–2018, postgraduate tuition fee loans for Northern Ireland students will be available. You can find an overview of and guidance on available funding in Northern Ireland on the department for employment and Learning website (www.nidirect.gov.uk) and Student Finance NI (www.studentfinanceni.co.uk).
Help from your employer
In technological, scientific and, sometimes, business areas, funding may occasionally be available for a research topic of interest to employers. This funding is normally applied for at department level and through research teams rather than by individuals. Some students may make personal arrangements to have part-time study fees paid for by their employers. If you’re in work and thinking about a postgraduate course related to your current career, consider asking your employer whether they would contribute to the costs – highlighting the benefits to them. Some of the more expensive taught postgraduate programmes, such as MBAs and professional courses, are more likely to be undertaken with employer support.
You may need to approach financial institutions for additional support – some may have designated study loans. You may consider working part time to fund your studies – research students, in particular, may be offered tutorial work, exam marking etc. But do be aware that it is less easy to absorb part-time work into the demands of a taught postgraduate course than it may have been on undergraduate courses.
Funding postgraduate research positions
Most institutions advertise funded postgraduate research positions on the postgraduate study/research section of their website. These are normally funded as part of a larger project. In Northern Ireland there are two types of awards available. Studentships and Co-Operative Awards in Science and Technology (CAST) (for research projects at Northern Ireland universities with an industry partner). These awards generally last for three years and cover a maintenance allowance of around £14,553 for research studentships and £7, 277 for taught studentships, as well as fees. Details are available on the postgraduate section of www.nidirect.gov.uk.
The Irish Research Council (www.research.ie) was established in 2012 to support a healthy research ecosystem in Ireland. The Research Council has a clear focus on early stage research careers across science and humanities, as well as promotion of increased opportunities in interdisciplinary research. The Council was established and mandated to:
Fund excellent research within, and between, all disciplines, and in doing so to enhance Ireland’s international reputation as a centre for research and learning. Support the education and skills development of excellent individual early stage researchers and cultivate agile independent researchers and thinkers, whilst offering a range of opportunities which support diverse career paths. Enrich the pool of knowledge and expertise available for addressing Ireland’s current and future challenges, whether societal, cultural or economic.
You should also visit www.research.ie if you are considering a research postgrad in the Republic of Ireland.
UK Research Councils
UK Research and Innovation(www.ukri.org) is the umbrella body for the seven research Councils in the UK. The individual research Councils are:
The Arts and Humanities research Council
Economic and Social research Council
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Natural environment Research Council
Medical research Council
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Science and Technology Facilities Council
You should approach your prospective academic department to discuss applying to one of the Research Councils.
How to successfully apply for funding
Competition for funding is rising, so follow our advice to help make the application process easier. Applying for funding is similar to applying for a place on a course and in some cases applications for academic places and for funding may overlap. So all the usual rules for completing applications
apply. For the best chances, attend briefings at your college from funding bodies for insight into their guidelines, attend any sessions offered by your careers service, and have your application checked by an academic mentor if possible.
Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI)
Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) is Ireland’s national awarding authority for all higher and further education grants. You can visit SUSI’s eligibility reckoner via www.susi.ie. The will give you an estimate as to if and what you will be entitled to some funding from SUSI. The eligibility reckoner provides an approximate indication of your possible eligibility for grant funding based on the information that you provide in response to the questions asked. Your use of the eligibility reckoner is not an application for a student grant and it is not an assessment by SUSI of your eligibility for a grant. Your actual eligibility for a student grant can only be determined on the basis of your formal application to SUSI made through the on-line application system and on the formal assessment of your application by SUSI.
Timing it right
If you want to study at a North American university this means early on in the previous year (usually at the same time that you apply for your university place). Competitive awards are announced at the start of the academic year, with deadlines from November onwards.
Meet the eligibility requirements
There is usually a lot of competition for funding. You should have good academic results and a good fit for the programme concerned. Funding bodies expect the best possible results overall throughout your academic course, normally at least a 2.1.
Complete the forms carefully
Read forms and directions carefully and make sure you give the information required. Give evidence of your track record in the subject and motivation and a sense of direction; also emphasise your interest in the department and university. Provide information about extra-curricular activities. This might include academic transcripts, academic references, a ‘statement of purpose’, or a statement from your bank manager or guarantor. And of course, always meet the deadline!