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Is the Ability to Study for a Masters down to Luck?

For many university students, a master's degree is the natural progression following the completion of an undergraduate programme. For some it is to help them along their chosen career path; others because they love what they have studied and want to learn more; and for some, they just aren't sure what they want to do next. All are valid reasons for wanting to study a master's and should not be secondary to financial capability. However, this is unfortunately the reality for most.

While tuition fees vary from course to course and university to university, the average cost of a year-long master's course is £11,000. The maximum amount that can be requested from Student Finance towards postgraduate study is £10,000. Already this poses a clear problem for prospective students. Even without taking into consideration living costs, there is an issue.

Prospective students are often told they'll have access to scholarships, bursaries and potential discounts (should they study at their alumni university) to help pay for their course and, therefore, should not panic. All they need is some forward-thinking and planning. However, I say there is plenty to be worried and, in fact, angry about.

I am extremely lucky that I was able to study a master's. I received a £3,000 discount from my tuition fees - which were originally £9,500 - and a £3,000 bursary. However, I was only able to confidently know I had the fees to cover my part-time degree because I got lucky with my living situation (paying very little rent) and was able to secure a flexible part-time job. Sure, there was an element of academic success that lead to the discount of my tuition fees, but the rest was pure luck.

This luck is comparable with those who come to university with the money to study a master's already in their back pocket. It's not the fault of the student, of course, that they are from a good financial background, but it does give cause for other students to feel hard done by. Not only do students without that money have to worry about their master's application, but they then have to complete applications for scholarships and bursaries, make calls to charities and, perhaps, even contemplate a bank loan. This is all before the course even starts. Students struggling financially will then have to balance their studies with a part-time (maybe even full-time) job just to get by. I say that's a huge reason for students to think twice before choosing to study a master's degree.

Students are bombarded with articles asking the question: is a master's worth it? And this is a legitimate question. Sometimes you have to consider will it truly further your career or will it be unfilling and simply burden you with more debt?

Regardless, once a student has decided they do want to study a master's, the only thing they should be worried about is getting the grades needed for their chosen course. They should not have to agonise over their bank balance first. 

Kate Jackson

Manchester '20

A Masters student currently studying Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University Of Manchester, following an undergraduate degree in English Literature. I am a lover of cats, books, and football and I spend (far too much) of my spare time resisting the urge to argue with misogynists on twitter. I also work for The Manchester Historian and the journal Polyphony as a copy-editor and peer-reviewer, respectfully, at my university.
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