Are application fees for master’s degrees too high in the UK?

The hidden costs of application fees could dissuade low-income students from applying to postgraduate courses, says James Muldoon

March 1, 2019
student money concerns.

University fees for postgraduate degrees in the UK have continued to rise, with domestic and European Union students now paying on average just over £7,400 for a taught postgraduate course in 2018-19. Times Higher Education reports that this is an 8.3 per cent increase from the year before and a 31 per cent increase from 2014-15.

With fees continuing to rise, one hidden cost of pursuing postgraduate education has rarely come under the spotlight: application fees.

Many of the top UK universities charge application fees of £40 to £100, and up to £150 for a prestigious MBA. For students applying to multiple courses, the costs of applications alone can add up to a significant expense.

The following table provides a description of application fees charged by all Russell Group universities for taught postgraduate degrees.

Postgraduate application fees for Russell Group universities


Application fee

Fee description

Universities with general application fees



University of Oxford



General fee


University of Cambridge



General fee






Online application fee

Paper application fee

Business-related MSc

London School of Economics and Political Science


General fee

University of Warwick




Online application fee

Paper application fee


King’s College London


Several postgraduate programmes

University of Nottingham


Taught postgraduate courses only. Further exemption for MA education

Universities with fees only for MBAs or other degrees in the business school




University of Manchester


MSc programmes in the business school

Durham University


MSc programmes in the business school

Imperial College London



MSc programmes in the business school


University of Birmingham


Business school programmes, engineering and some science degrees

University of Edinburgh


Business-related MSc programmes

Newcastle University


Some business-related MSc and journalism MSc

University of Glasgow


Several postgraduate taught degrees in the Adam Smith Business School

Universities with no postgraduate application fees




Universities of Bristol, Exeter, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Southampton, York, Queen Mary University, London, Queen’s University Belfast, and Cardiff University

No Fees


Note: Accurate as of 9 February 2019. Research degrees excluded.

* UCL considers written requests for suspension of the application fee from students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

** At the LSE, a proportion of the application fee income each year is used to give financial support to LSE students.

Seven of the universities listed charge a general application fee for most or all courses. The average cost of an online application at these universities was £60.

Students who wish to apply to seven of the top universities could pay up to £415, while this figure could be as high as £760 if the applications were to top MBA programmes.

Three-quarters of postgraduate students are self-funded, and with the minimum wage for 21-year-olds at £7.70 an hour, this one-off expense can be a considerable burden.

The high costs of application fees raise important questions of access to postgraduate education from students from low-income families, who may be deterred by the significant outlay required to apply to prestigious programmes.

Some students might not expect such high fees, particularly considering that the price of applying for undergraduate programmes is only £30 through Ucas for up to five undergraduate courses.

Students from low-income backgrounds are the group most likely to want a postgraduate degree but least likely to apply, according to a Widening Access to Postgraduate Study report from researchers at the University of York.

The underlying problem is that students from privileged backgrounds are already over-represented at a postgraduate level at elite universities. An additional hurdle to apply, which disproportionately affects those from low-income backgrounds, succeeds mainly in dissuading those lacking confidence from pursuing their dreams.

Many of the universities that charge application fees take the issues of diversity and inclusivity very seriously and champion other initiatives to promote these values. Universities interested in further promoting widening postgraduate participation would do well to examine the rationale for their application fees and consider whether they could be abolished.

James Muldoon is a lecturer in political science at the University of Exeter.

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