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Why Budget 2015 loans for PhDs matter for tech

Announcing the Budget 2015 yesterday, 18 March 2015, Chancellor George Osborne introduced a new loan for PhD students and research-based masters degrees of up to £25,000. HM Treasury released details on this "package of measures to broaden and strengthen support for postgraduate researchers (including both masters and PhDs)" in the full Budget 2015. This new proposal follows Mr Osborne's announcement of a loans scheme for students of taught master's degrees of up to £10,000, to be available from 2016-17, made in the Autumn Statement 2014.

techUK welcomes this support for research masters and PhDs which will help drive innovation and make the UK a global hub for tech talent. We know from members that tech companies struggle to find the PhD-level professionals they require. Industry makes increasing investment in PhD programmes across engineering and the sciences to boost supply of talent in that sector. The new loan scheme for PhDs and research masters will help in the effort to create more highly skilled professionals that are essential for the UK's fastest growing sector to thrive.

For a growing tech sector and a world-leading digital economy it is important to enable UK research institutions to attract the best talent globally. New funding for PhDs and research masters is a strong step in this direction. In order to make the most of the research these PhDs and masters students will produce, it will remain an important area of work to join up closely academic research with industry in order to trial and implement ideas. Fostering university-industry collaboration and developing tech hubs will strengthen the UK's strong innovation economy that generates jobs and growth.

The postgraduate package includes "introducing income-contingent loans of up to £25,000 to support PhDs and research-based masters degrees. These loans will be in addition to existing funding, and designed to minimise public subsidy. The government will work with research councils, universities and industry to examine how best to design them so that they complement existing funding streams and continue to support the most excellent research." The loans are currently planned to launch in the academic year 2016-17 for research masters students under the age of 30. Government is yet to confirm the repayment requirements and restrictions as to who can access the PhD loans.

The new package also includes Government "launching a review into how the government can strengthen its funding for postgraduate research. This review will examine the balance between number and level of research stipends to ensure that the UK's offer remains internationally competitive." The Chancellor noted that in international comparison, US and China "are competing more for top researchers and have increased PhD student numbers in recent years, whereas in the UK PhD enrolment has remained relatively flat".

Speaking on skills the Chancellor further introduced the 'Apprenticeship Voucher' a programme currently in testing and to launch in 2017, aiming to put employers in control of the government funding for the training apprentices. He reiterated that as confirmed at Autumn Statement 2013, the government and employers will make cash contributions towards the cost of training for apprentices. As the Tech Partnership states in its roundup of the National Apprenticeship Week, the tech sector is particularly well placed to offer apprenticeships that will help deliver crucial skills for the future workforce.

The full Budget 2015 also alludes to the need for a smarter migration policy, which techUK has been pushing for in 'Securing our Digital Future: The techUK Manifesto for growth and jobs 2015-2020'. The Budget says Government will "provide the UK's world-leading research institutes with greater freedoms to attract the brightest minds, re-invest commercial income, and develop cutting-edge technology".

For more information, view techUK CEO Julian David's response to the Budget 2015 or the full Budget 2015.

If you would like to find out more about techUK's work on Skills, Talent and Migration policy, contact Laura Weidinger.

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