Swansea University at November 2010's demo - picture courtesy of Ceri Parker

You’ve seen it all over the news: how undergraduates are being hit hard by the government spending cuts. But recently there’s been a surge of concern for those who want to study for postgraduate degrees, and how a lack of available funding is affecting many of those at Swansea University and other institutions all over the UK. Roisin O’Connor reports on the situation.

A number of Swansea students have been left feeling frustrated and let-down after they were unsuccessful in their application for funding for postgraduate degrees. Many have had to re-think their entire futures and consider going straight into full-time employment, or else simply put their lives on hold until they can find a way to deal with the problem.

Caitlin Beth Gwnn, who was unable to find funding for her master’s degree, gave her view on the subject.

“It was incredibly disappointing to find out I didn’t get the postgraduate funding I applied for, particularly as it’s been stressed to students that there is a very small window of opportunity regarding career prospects for graduates.

An MA seemed like a sensible option, but I am now unsure of what I plan to do with my degree, and unfortunately it looks as though I will end up in a career that is completely unrelated to my BA in English. For Swansea University not to be more helpful regarding funding is annoying, and it makes me feel as though my degree was a waste of time.”

Unlike funding for undergraduates through student loans, the postgrad funding system is not built on a national bursary framework, and whether the application is successful or not is dependent entirely on individual circumstances. Swansea University offers postgraduate funding which comes from a variety of both internal and external sources, and how each successful applicant is chosen varies from award to award because each one has different eligibility and awarding criteria.

Charlotte Britton, Welfare Officer for Swansea University, told The Siren about her own experience.

“I struggled financially throughout my master’s degree. Although I was lucky enough to have part funding, affording even every-day things was really difficult. I was working up to 25 hours a week which definitely impacted on my studies. Going from a maintenance fees loan and grant in undergrad to barely anything in postgrad was a shock.

Postgraduate study shouldn’t be the preserve of the rich and anyone who wants to further their research should be given the chance to do it. It helps your employability, it’s good for society and if you love what you’re studying, money shouldn’t stop you!”

The recent incident at Birmingham University where an email was leaked revealed that those in charge of allocating post-graduate funding had been instructed to be even more lenient than usual. The situation was brought up in last year’s government assembly, and the white paper on education was planned for release in March to address the issue, though this was later delayed until July.

This year, Swansea had approximately 293 postgraduate funding awards available to students from the UK/EU, with a total value of around £3.5 million. This has risen from last year, where for 2010 entry there were 252 awards available with a total value of £2.7 million. Competition for this funding is fierce; for the University’s Master’s Scholarships the University will receive on average around 400 applications for 100 awards, and something in the region of 200 applications for 2 awards for the Alumni Bursaries. A large majority of this funding is awarded on the basis of academic merit, as opposed to financial need or individual circumstances.

Senior Student Recruitment Officer Dr Caroline Coleman told The Siren about the University’s policies for postgraduate funding.

“Here at Swansea we are acutely aware of the financial challenges facing postgraduate students and we work extremely hard to secure funding and make sure prospective students know about their funding options. With so much competition for funding, it is unfortunately inevitable that not all students will be successful in their application for funding.

Each of our three Postgraduate Open Days feature a session on funding where we explain the challenge of the funding situation and highlight the range of funding that is available. In our experience, students who begin their search for funding early, who carry out thorough research, who apply for all possible sources of funding, and who devote time and care to their funding applications are much more likely to succeed in their applications.”

The situation at Swansea is being mirrored at universities around the country. In January 2011, the Guardian reported that 180,000 full-time master’s students were ineligible for government funding. Although the press focus during the cuts was on undergraduates who face fees of up to £9000, postgraduate students could be seen to have been hit even harder. For those graduating with over £30,000 of debt; self-funding a postgraduate degree will seem like a daunting prospect.

Want to share your own experience with postgraduate funding? Don’t hesitate to talk to us about it, by emailing us at thesirenswansea@hotmail.co.uk.