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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Postgraduate Support Scheme: Guidance for institutions receiving funding to support postgraduate students 2015-16

1. In its Autumn Statement, the Government confirmed that HEFCE would provide £50 million to institutions during 2015-16, which with matched funding would enable 10,000 masters students each to receive a £10,000 contribution towards the cost of their studies. This is intended to build upon the pilot Postgraduate Support Scheme (PSS) during 2014-15, and to provide a bridge to the proposed implementation of a loan scheme for masters students from 2016-17 onwards.

2. This letter sets out the approach we have used to determine how the 2015-16 funding has been allocated to institutions, and how it may be used, in terms of the nature of awards to students and how they may be targeted. Annex A provides a list of institutions receiving funding for 2015-16, together with an initial amount of funding each institution will receive and an initial number of £10,000 awards to be allocated, taking into account matched funding.

3. The allocations to each institution represent a minimum amount of money and number of awards, and total 90 per cent of the £50 million funding available. These allocations are intended to provide a guaranteed number of awards, and thereby to enable institutions to begin immediately to determine their approach to allocations.

4. Institutions are invited to nominate an individual to act as PSS lead contact. This person should e-mail confirmation of contact details to no later than Friday 19 December 2014.

5. The PSS lead, or a suitable alternative, should if possible attend a briefing event we have scheduled for Thursday 8 January 2015 at Woburn House, London. This event will enable all institutions receiving PSS 2015-16 funding to talk to HEFCE officers and the PSS 2014-15 pilot programme leads, to clarify their approaches to supporting under-represented students and their strategies for meeting the aims of PSS 2015-16. Details of the event will be e-mailed to PSS lead contacts on Monday 22 December 2014.

6. Institutions may decline this funding, in part or whole. Institutions wishing to do this should e-mail no later than Tuesday 27 January 2015 with the specific amount of funding and number of awards they wish to decline.

7. With the expectation of a loan scheme being introduced for 2016-17, this funding is for one year only and the data used to determine allocations, as is common in other funding areas, has been used as a proxy. Nevertheless, we have held back 10 per cent of the funding at this point to accommodate any material changes to allocations that may be needed as a result of data queries. We are acutely aware of the need for universities and colleges to have a firm idea of the absolute number of awards allocated as soon as possible, given the timing of recruitment activities for 2015-16.  We have, therefore, determined that data changes that would result in 10 or fewer additional awards being allocated will not be regarded as material for this purpose. This enables us to set a minimum allocation now for all institutions, which will not be reduced as a consequence of data queries which we know can take time to resolve and agree. Any data queries should be sent to, no later than Tuesday 27 January 2015.

8. We aim to resolve any data queries by early March when we will confirm a final allocation of funding and awards taking account also of any declined funding. This should not, however, prevent institutions from beginning to allocate the minimum amounts set out in Annex A.


9. In November 2013, the Government announced that it would repurpose £50 million from the National Scholarship Programme to support progression to taught postgraduate education. It signalled that its approach to allocating the funding would build upon lessons derived from the Postgraduate Support Scheme 2014-15, which was launched by HEFCE in July 2013 to test innovative activity and finance models to support progression and participation.

10. In the 2014 Autumn Statement, the Government confirmed its intention to introduce income-contingent loans for students under 30 years old wishing to undertake a postgraduate taught masters in any subject. These loans, of up to £10,000, are planned to be available from 2016-17. The Government also indicated that, as a bridge to this during 2015-16, HEFCE would allocate £50 million to enable institutions to offer awards of £10,000 to students on a matched-funding basis.

Institutional allocations

11. In the interest of informing institutions as early as possible about the funding they are likely to receive, we have allocated 90 per cent of the funding as initial allocations, which institutions should be able immediately to factor into their recruitment of taught postgraduate students in 2015-16.

12. The Government has agreed that we should focus the allocation on students who are under-represented at taught postgraduate level. We know from previous HEFCE research that students from the areas identified as lower participation at undergraduate level are also less likely to progress directly to a masters course, compounding the disparity at undergraduate level (see ‘Trends in young participation in higher education’, HEFCE 2013/28). There have also been concerns about the level of support for students who report a disability at postgraduate level, compared with that available for undergraduates. The formula used to determine institutional allocations is therefore based on the population of HEFCE-fundable masters students in each institution who are from the lowest participation areas or in receipt of a Disabled Students Allowance.

13. In Annex A, the initial allocations for each institution are presented in terms of total PSS funding allocated and as a number of awards, which with matched funding will be worth £10,000 per student.

Nature of support

14. We have agreed with the Government that funding should be provided to each student as a £10,000 award, half of which should be supplied by the institution or other sources. The institutional contribution may take the form of a reduction to the published tuition fee.

15. Awards should be restricted to students who are:

  • progressing from an undergraduate course for which they were charged the higher tuition fee applying since 2012-13
  • undertaking masters courses in any subject
  • studying full-time or part-time for a maximum of two years
  • domiciled in the UK or European Union (EU)
  • from a group that is evidentially under-represented among the institution’s taught masters population.

16. As with the pilot programme in 2014-15, institutions should determine which students to support using their evidence of groups who are under-represented within their taught postgraduate programmes. This year, however, we can supplement this with evidence from the pilot projects, which identifies the ways in which institutions have targeted different types of students for support.

17. In headline terms, the under-represented students supported in 2014-15 have for the most part been from low-participation backgrounds at undergraduate level, specifically those from low performing socio-economic areas, with disabilities, or with characteristics that are under-represented in specific disciplines such as women in engineering.

18. To ensure funding reached the intended students, pilot projects developed application processes to identify one or more of the following attributes:

  • classification in the lowest quintiles of the Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) measure
  • disability
  • household income
  • status as a care leaver
  • status as the first in a family to attend higher education
  • receipt of benefits
  • domicile in the UK or EU.

The institutions then used these criteria to determine eligibility for their financial support.

19. The list above is not exhaustive, and institutions in 2015-16 may determine other preferable criteria to use, reflecting the particular student and employer constituencies with which they work.

20. PSS funding is intended to support HEFCE-fundable masters provision. It should not be delivered to students undertaking non-HEFCE fundable provision, such as those on courses funded by other public bodies, or students from outside the EU.

21. It is expected that PSS funding should be spent by the end of academic year 2015-16. For part-time students who receive awards, the HEFCE funding should be spent in academic year 2015-16 and the matched funding used for 2016-17.

22. Institutions should ensure they comply with relevant equality and diversity legislation in targeting students for any PSS-related recruitment or retention activities. Some PSS 2014-15 pilot projects focused on their localities and the needs of local students and employers, having received legal advice based on their data and specified focus. Institutions should be aware that their grounds to target different student groups may depend on their particular circumstances and student populations, and should consult legal advisors when considering any particular targeting mechanisms to ensure that they respect relevant legislative requirements.

23. The 8 January briefing event at Woburn House will help institutions share thinking and practice in this area, including by hearing from the projects supported in the first phase.

Monitoring and evaluation

24. We are developing a monitoring and evaluation plan. This is essential to meet the Government’s expectations, gather evidence on the outcomes from the investment, and thereby enable us to judge value for money and influence future funding, policy and practice. We aim to gather information in a format consistent with our wider approach to Student Opportunity funding.

25. In this scheme, the key outcomes we will be seeking to identify will include:

  1. The number of students who would not otherwise have participated in taught masters programmes, and the benefits to the individuals, the economy and society from this.
  2. The level of investment in postgraduate education attracted during 2015-16 from employers, institutions, donors and students themselves, and the extent to which this is later sustained.
  3. The practical learning benefits from applying the lessons from PSS activities across the sector during 2015-16, and from gathering and disseminating further learning to inform later activity.

26. In order to capture those outcomes and evaluate the impact of this funding, we ask institutions to do the following:

  1. Record PSS-supported students in the ‘HESA Initiatives’ field in the 2015-16 HESA survey. Details of the field will be available in relevant HESA guidance.
  2. Answer PSS-related questions in the HEFCE Annual Monitoring Statement in December 2015.
  3. Complete an end-of-project report in autumn 2016.

Data queries

27. We have withheld 10 per cent of the funding at this point to accommodate any material (i.e. affecting more than 10 awards) changes to allocations that may be necessary as a result of data queries. Any data queries should be sent to, no later than Tuesday 27 January 2015. We recognise that the proposed timeline is very tight and comes at a difficult time of year, but we want to provide institutions with a definitive picture of their funding as quickly as possible, to avoid any further delays in factoring it into the recruitment of taught postgraduate students in 2015-16. Details of data used to determine allocations can be found in Annex B.

28. Once the deadline for data queries and for institutions to opt out of this funding has passed, allocations will be recalculated. Institutions will be informed of any additional available funding and awards in March 2015. We have reserved 10 per cent of the funding for possible material amendments, which we would expect to be exceptional, in order to ensure that recalculations result only in an uplift to allocations. Institutions should be mindful of this possible increase when determining their approach to allocating awards.

29. On Tuesday 23 December 2014, links to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and Individualised Learner Record files and related technical documents will be sent directly to the usual contact for the Higher Education Students: Early Statistics or Higher Education in Further Education: Students survey contacts at each institution receiving funding. We invite institutions to review these documents and to e-mail any queries to, no later than Tuesday 27 January 2015.


15 December 2014

PSS guidance and initial allocations published.

19 December 2014

Deadline for submitting PSS lead contact details to HEFCE.

22 December 2014

Event details e-mailed to PSS lead contacts.

23 December 2014

HESA/ILR documents emailed to survey contacts.

8 January 2015

HEFCE-hosted briefing event for all institutions receiving PSS funding.

27 January 2015

Deadline for data queries.

Deadline for institutions to decline funding.

20 March 2015

Institutions informed of any uplift to allocations.

Next steps

30. Institutions should nominate a PSS lead contact, who should e-mail confirmation of their contact details to no later than Friday 19 December 2014. They, or if they are not available an alternative, should also if possible plan to attend the briefing event on Thursday 8 January 2015 at Woburn House.

31. Institutions wishing to decline this funding, in part or whole, should e-mail no later than Tuesday 27 January 2015 with the specific amount they wish to decline.

32. PSS allocations may increase in March 2015 when we allocate the 10 per cent withheld).

33. All data queries, notification of declined funding, and general enquiries should be sent to or made by phone to 0117 931 7484.

Yours sincerely

Professor Madeleine Atkins

Chief Executive

Annex A  PSS initial funding allocations for 2015-16

Download the Annex A PSS initial funding allocations for 2015-16 as MS Word (122 KB)

Annex B  Method used to inform the initial allocation for 2015-16

Download the Annex B Method used to inform the indicative allocation for 2015-16 as MS Word (41 KB)

Print-friendly version (letter plus annexes)

Download the Print-friendly version as PDF (359 KB)

Date: December 2014

Ref: Circular letter 32/2014

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Postgraduate education, Access and student success, Research and innovation

Enquiries should be directed to: