Leading universities challenge postgraduate loans age limit

Russell Group institutions say government is wrong to assume that over-30s are in a strong financial position

October 10, 2015
30mph speed limit sign

Leading universities have called on the government to consider removing the planned age limit for postgraduate loans, or at least to exempt students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

State-backed loans for English-domiciled students on master’s programmes, which will be introduced next year, are to be made available only to people aged under 30.

But six Russell Group institutions have questioned this approach after running postgraduate scholarship schemes during 2014-15 for students from under-represented backgrounds. Of 416 awards that were made, one in five (82) were to learners aged 30 and older.

At one institution in the consortium – made up of the universities of Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Warwick and York, plus Newcastle University – 38 per cent of scholarship holders were 30 or older.

The government believes that older people tend to be better placed to secure alternative finance for postgraduate study.

But a report from the six universities says they found that over-30s were more likely than younger students to have widening participation characteristics such as a disability, a background in the care system, or caring responsibilities of their own. Frequently, it was this trait or traits that had prevented them from progressing to postgraduate study sooner.

Scholarship students aged over 30 tended not to be in a strong financial position, the report says. Among unsuccessful scholarship applicants of all ages who did not enrol in postgraduate study, 92 per cent said that lack of financial support was a key barrier.

Tony Strike, chair of the consortium steering group and Sheffield’s director of strategy, planning and change, said the government should consider whether the age limit should be retained at all, or waived for those from widening participation backgrounds.

“If one of the hopes of introducing a loan scheme is to create fairer access, then the age...rule is going to negate one of the objectives of the scheme,” he said.

The report also draws on a survey of first degree graduates from the six universities, which suggests that leavers from poorer backgrounds with undergraduate fee debts may be more averse to taking on further borrowing than those from more affluent upbringings.

Dr Strike said that there was a case for continuing a targeted scholarship scheme, alongside a loan system.


You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Related universities


Print headline: Call to extend postgrad loans to over-30s

Reader's comments (1)

The idea of any age limit seems dubious to me. We live in a world where people live (and are expected to work for) longer so may need new qualifications later in life. The growing societal obsession with youth should not be reflected in education which has always been a way to assist progression on merit.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Home secretary says government will support 'best' universities

Man handing microphone to audience member

Academic attainment of disadvantaged students can be improved if they can decide how they are assessed, study claims

Woman drinking tea from saucer

Plugging a multibillion-pound deficit exacerbated by June’s poll result may require ‘drastic measures’, analysts have warned

Italy's gold medallist

New measures to ensure universities are ‘not penalised’ for taking poorer students also outlined for next stage of TEF

Classroom, school

Higher education institutions can and should do more to influence education at a secondary school level, says Edward Peck