Loans for PhD students of up to £25,000 will be introduced from 2018-19, the government has announced.
Confirmation of the timescale was disclosed in the Budget "red book" published after chancellor George Osborne’s speech on 16 March.
The document also says that the government will "review the gaps in support for lifetime learning, including for flexible and part-time study", after the dramatic decline in part-time student numbers.
The strategy builds on longstanding plans to develop data on graduate earnings by course: “The government will bring together information about the wages of graduates of different courses and the financial support available across further and higher education to ensure that people can make informed decisions about the right courses for them.”
Mr Osborne announced a further £3.5 billion in cuts across government by 2019-20. However, Treasury figures published after his speech showed the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills budget for 2019-20 unchanged from the Autumn Statement, at £11.5 billion. Mr Osborne has yet to identify where the cuts will be made.
Although the plan for PhD loans was originally announced in last year’s Budget, the government had not given a timescale for introduction.
There have been calls for financial support to be extended to postgraduate students to ensure fair access, including for more disadvantaged students.
The government has already released details on master’s loans, to be introduced from September.
“From 2018-19, loans of up to £25,000 will be available to any English student without a Research Council living allowance who can win a place for doctoral study at a UK university,” the Budget red book says.
“They will be added to any outstanding master’s loan and repaid on the same terms, but with the intention of setting a repayment rate of 9 per cent for doctoral loans and a combined 9 per cent repayment rate if people take out a doctoral and master’s loan. The government will launch a technical consultation on the detail. Those who take out only a master’s loan will still repay at 6 per cent, as announced at Autumn Statement 2015,” the document says.
The government will also “extend the eligibility of master’s loans to include three-year part-time courses with no full-time equivalent”, it says.
In addition, there will be science and innovation audits in a number of UK regions to assess research strengths and identify fields where regions could be globally competitive.
Maddalaine Ansell, the University Alliance chief executive, welcomed the moves on PhD loans and said: “Support for lifelong learning is essential if we are serious about boosting productivity and creating opportunity for all."
But Sally Hunt, the University and College Union general secretary, said: “Instead of blocking off a key academic pathway with a mountain of debt, the government should be prioritising direct public investment in the postgraduates who will make up our future higher education workforce.”
Meanwhile, Wendy Piatt, the Russell Group director-general, commenting on the plans for the regional science audits, said its universities would be "key partners in the first wave of...audits announced by the chancellor”.