Plight of postgraduates under loans proposal

Copy of letter to Tim Crookall, Education Minister.

RE: Postgraduate Student Awards (20120/13 Entry)

My name is Charlie Barlow, and I am a 2012 entry PhD student at Trinity College at the University of Cambridge.

Much of the on-going debate about the proposed Student Awards Regulations centres upon the introduction of tuition fees for undergraduates; however, I am writing to draw your attention to another group of students to which this debate is of the utmost relevance: Manx postgraduates who entered university in 2012 or will enter in 2013.

The Department of Education and Children has chosen to defer introducing measures within the proposed Student Awards Regulations to give students ‘ample time to prepare’ for the changes. Indeed, the regulations that will come into effect for 2014 entry will be put forth to Tynwald this month. This is 12 months before deadlines for the majority of alternative funding sources, giving students ample time to seek alternative funding as necessary.

However, the Student Awards Regulations for 2012 entry were not brought to Tynwald until March 2012. This amounts to more than three months after deadlines for all alternative funding sources have passed, giving postgraduate students entering university in 2012 no opportunity to seek alternative funding to cover the shortfall created by the changes to the regulations in force for 2011 entry given that the 2012 regulations were not approved until such a late stage. Such rationale is in line with the department’s deferral of implementing the proposed changes for more than one academic year to give students ‘ample time to prepare’.

Another major point of contention is the accrual of interest charges for postgraduate students.

Under the latest round of concessions to be presented at Tynwald for 2014 entry onwards, ‘the accrual of interest charges is deferred until graduation’. However, the accrual of interest charges for 2012/2013 entry is immediate.

As such, a postgraduate student on a three-year course with a £5,000 loan each year will incur in excess of £1,000 interest charges before they even graduate.

Manx postgraduate students on three-year courses make markedly different contributions towards their tuition fees depending on their year of entry –

2009 entry or earlier: no contribution, £0

2010 or 2011 entry, up to £3,000 means-tested, £0-£3,000

2012 or 2013 entry, £15,000 loan, plus>£1,000 interest, £16,000+

2014 entry onwards, £7,500 loan, plus no interest, £7,500

Students entering postgraduate courses in 2012 or 2013 pay £13,000-£16,000+ more than those who entered university in 2011 or earlier, and £8,500+ more than those who enter from 2014. The discrepancy is abhorrent.

Should the new regulations be approved, it would be completely senseless for a Manx postgraduate to begin a course in 2013, paying at least £8,500 more over three years than if they begin in 2014 instead. 2012 entry students, however, are now committed to courses and the burden of a £16,000+ debt.

In the interest of equal treatment for all students, the department ought to:

• Allow 2013 entry postgraduates to enter university under the new Regulations, offering them a £2,500 loan for each year of study;

• Convert the £5,000 interest-bearing loans given to 2012 entry postgraduates for this academic year to £2,500 loans under the new Regulations;

• Pay the outstanding balance of £2,500 plus the interest incurred on the full £5,000 on loans made to 2012 entry postgraduates; and,

• Allow continuing 2012 entry postgraduates (i.e. those on 2- or 3-year courses) to continue at university under the new Regulations, offering them a £2,500 loan for each subsequent year of study.

I hope the Department of Education and Children is able to consider these points.

Charlie Barlow

Trinity College, Cambridge

Mr Crookall’s reply

Each year the Department of Education and Children brings Student Award Regulations to Tynwald. Assuming those regulations are approved they apply to any student who commences a course of study during the time they are in force. Any subsequent regulations are never applied retrospectively.

Therefore, assuming that the new proposals are agreed by Tynwald in February, they will not be applied retrospectively to any students.

A student who commenced undergraduate study in 2012 will not be charged for tuition fees as this was not a requirement at the point at which they commenced study. The same rules apply to the arrangements for postgraduate study. Students who commenced this in 2012 knew at the time they did so what the financial commitment would be and also what the arrangements would be if they wished to take out a loan to cover that.

For the students concerned there has been no change in the rules. Both undergraduate and postgraduate students were given an undertaking, through the regulation in force at the time, that any future changes would not affect them.

Whilst it is understandable that an existing postgraduate student may feel they would have been better off studying under a later set of Student Award Regulations it is disingenuous to prepare an argument based on a call for only a partial, retrospective application of that regulation.

In the particular case cited, if the new regulations were to be applied retrospectively, the student would need to contribute £2,500 for each year of undergraduate study and a further £2,500 for each year of postgraduate study, making a potential total of £15,000.

The logical conclusion of suggesting we should apply the regulations retrospectively is that we should ask all students currently studying for undergraduate degrees to make the universal contribution retrospectively for each year of their course. This is obviously neither fair nor reasonable. In the same way it is not reasonable to suggest that the arrangements for students who commenced postgraduate study under a particular set of regulations should be varied retrospectively.

Therefore, it will not be possible to consider any retrospective application of the Student Award Regulations which Tynwald will be asked to approve in February.

Tim Crookall MHK

Minister for Education and Children


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