Master stroke: the scheme follows concern about a dip in postgraduate applications under this government

Hundreds of students in the UK will use online campaigns this year to help pay for their postgraduate degrees as financial support becomes scarcer and “crowdfunding” expands into the education sector.

Since 2012, UK universities have been allowed to charge undergraduate fees of up to £9,000 a year, so students who embark on second or third degrees will be more likely to have larger debts.

Crowdfunding services such as Hubbub can help them raise money for postgraduate tuition, maintenance and materials.

“Over the past year our user numbers have expanded by roughly a factor of five,” said Jonathan May, chief executive of Hubbub.

“A quick look at charity fundraising shows how much more potential there still is for growth. Educational institutions are still where charities were a couple of decades ago, before JustGiving came and raised billions of pounds by digitising and personalising the giving process.”

Hubbub’s growth reflects the expanding market for crowdfunding, which has reported a 60 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of registered platforms. The company does not charge individuals but makes money from selling its services to universities.

A World Bank study found that crowdfunding websites raised $2.7bn in 2012.

Like JustGiving, crowdfunding websites use photographs, videos and message updates to encourage people to give.

Mr May said that alumni teams and development offices would struggle to attract more donations without updating their fundraising technology.

Currently, only 1.8 per cent of alumni give to universities in the UK, much lower than the 57 per cent of the population that gives to charities.

In the US, some 11.4 per cent of alumni donate to their universities.

In addition to one-off amounts, students have started using crowdfunding to help pay for their continuing degree expenses.

“You do feel quite worried when you raise money like this,” said Urté Laukaityté, who is using Hubbub to raise £12,460 for an MSc in mind, language and embodied cognition at Edinburgh. “It’s not so much that people react badly – most people are really supportive – but you worry they might think you are asking too much.”

Ms Laukaityté began a crowdfunding campaign after she was unable to secure funding from any of the bodies who support research in her subject area.

“There’s so little available, and almost none for people who didn’t get a first-class undergraduate degree, even though those exams in no way resemble the kind of work you are expected to do at master’s level.”

Mr May said that although Hubbub was not primarily intended for crowdfunding tuition fees, he supported students who used it for this.

He anticipates that, in future, most of the money passing through the website will be spent on individual projects, rather than tuition fees.

“There’s just a problem in the market right now with funding for master’s students, because banks are risk-averse when it comes to lending to young people without assets, and universities haven’t yet begun using alumni money to give students loans.”

A spokeswoman for Oxford university told the Financial Times that it would “welcome a national loan scheme for postgraduates, as one of a range of solutions to help people access graduate courses”.

She said there was a “broken bridge” between undergraduate degrees and PhDs, and that a loan scheme was particularly necessary for master’s courses because they were a pre-requirement for most doctorates.

She said the higher education sector was looking ahead to announcements about the £50m set aside for graduates by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and to the chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

Hubbub creates a noise for students

Hubbub has been used by students such as Emily-Rose Eastop, whose campaign for her MSc in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology at Oxford attracted the derision of the Daily Mail newspaper, which branded her a “posh brat”. She raised more than £25,000, writes Aliya Ram.

Others include Naomi Pratt, who raised £2,310 for the art materials she will need for her master’s at Glasgow, and Rachel Owhin, who raised £10,000 in 10 days to fund an MSc in migration studies at Oxford.

Ms Owhin said that other social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were pivotal to her success. “All these sites cater for each other and make each other possible,” she said. “I think most of my unknown donors were people who saw my hashtag on Twitter.”

Urté Laukaityté, who is using Hubbub to raise money for an MSc at Edinburgh, said: “It’s really hard to find funding for postgraduate courses in the UK, in the same way that it’s really hard to afford the fees for undergraduate courses in the US.”

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