For new and prospective students, I can imagine it’ll be bewildering to think about the costs associated with university.  You’ll often hear parents and teachers telling you about how much of an investment it is (usually as a method of getting you working hard through your A Levels) and they aren’t joking.


Thankfully you don’t have to always front the cost yourself, especially at undergraduate level.  Support from the government means that you are able to fund your education practically with the ability to pay it back when you can afford to.

All student funding is managed by Student loans companies, depending on where you reside:

So who can get the student finance?

There are several criteria which you need to fulfill in order to get student finance.


You need to be studying one of the following:

  • A first degree, such as a BA course, BSc or BEd.

  • Any Foundation Degree (can be used as a springboard into a full degree.)

  • A Certificate or Diploma of Higher Education.

  • Higher National Certificate or Higher National Diploma (HNC or HND.)

  • Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE)

  • Initial Teacher Training.

If you’re a part-time student, you have to study at a rate of 25% of an equivalent full-time (FT) course per academic year.  This is known as course intensity.  For example, if a FT student studies for 60 Credits per year, you’ll have to do at least 15 credits-worth to get funding.

‘But I studied before!’

If you’ve already completed a Higher Education qualification, you probably won’t be able to get student finance support.  However, if you change course or leave a course and then start again, you should be able to get the funding.  Also, if you finish an HNC, HND or Foundation Degree and want to move on to do an honours degree, you should be eligible too.

‘I’m a mature student’

Panic not – mature students in higher education are catered for.  Whatever age you are, if you’re going into a course, you’ll get funding.  However, if you want a loan to cover your living expenses, you have to be under 60 years of age.

‘Does it matter where I’m from?’

If you fulfill the following requirements you can apply for funding:

  • If you’re a UK National or have a ‘Settled Status’ designation (i.e. you have no limit set on the time you can stay in the UK.)

  • You normally live in England.

  • You have lived in the UK for three years before you start your course.

If you fall under any of the following, you could get funding too:

  • You are an EU national, or you are the family member of an EU national.

  • You are a refugee.

  • You have humanitarian protection – you failed in an application to get asylum.

  • Migrant workers.

  • If you are the child of a Swiss national.

  • You are the child of a Turkish worker.

OK, so you’ve ticked the boxes and you’re eligible.  What exactly can you get?

Tuition Fee Loan

Whatever happens, as an undergraduate student you are not required to pay up front.  You can apply for the Fee Loan, which is paid by the relevant student finance company directly to your university (you won’t actually receive or see this money.)

The loan covers the entire amount that your university is charging for a year’s tuition – at present this is a maximum of £9,000 for an undergraduate degree year.    If you choose not to apply for the fee loan, that is fair enough – you will either have to pay at your student support office or provide evidence that you have a sponsor who is paying on your behalf.  However, whichever route you choose… you won’t be allowed to enrol/re-enrol until you have paid.

Maintenance Loan

A maintenance loan is where you actually get some money and is what students and parents mean when they generically say ‘your student loan.’  This is how your living expenses are covered, including your rent.  When applying for this maintenance loan, it will be means tested because there is a scale as to how much you can earn.  This means you may be required to submit evidence in order to claim a certain amount.  The money is paid in three installments per year – September, January and April.  This is usually in line with your rent payments.

  • If you are living at home with you parents, wherever it is, you will be eligible to receive up to £4,375 per year.

  • If you are living away from home, you are eligible to get up to £5,500 per year.  Due to increased costs associated with living in London, the maintenance loan is higher for the capital; up to £7,675.

  • If you spend a year abroad on a studying abroad period, you could receive up to £6,535.

This loan needs to be paid back, though you won’t start paying it back until after you graduate – and then only when you start earning £21,000 a year or more.  If you haven’t paid off the entire debt in 30 years, it gets written off.
Maintenance Grant

Sometimes, the loan doesn’t go far enough – especially if your family does not earn large sums of money each year.  This is where the maintenance grant comes in.

This is a sum of money paid to you three times a year (roughly a the same time as the loan) and does not need to be paid back.

The grant works on a sliding scale:

  • If your total household family income (FI) is less than £25,000 per year, from September 2013, you’ll get £3,354 per year.

  • If your FI is between £25,000 and £30,000, you get £2,416.

  • If the FI is between £30,000 and £35,000, the payment is £1,478.

  • If your FI is anywhere between £35,000 and £40,000, the payment is £540.

  • Now the strange one: If it lies between £40k and £42,611, you get £50 – I don’t know why either.

  • Anything over this threshold means you won’t get paid a grant.

This opens up one of the great debates about student funding.  The ethos in this is that ‘well your parents earn money, therefore they will help fund you and so you don’t need lots from us.’  The system is saying basically that if have a family of two parents earning an average of £21,305 each per year (less than the national average) they will be able to fund you any excess that your loan does not cover.  If your parents don’t wish to support you financially to go to university (for whatever reason) then you’ll find it tough to get through – quite an unfortunate situation.

Other Grants

There are many other ways that students can get financial support, often in the form of grants, bursaries and scholarships…

  • If you have a low income (under £25,000), you can apply to the National Scholarship Fund for a bursary.  If successful, you can receive a cash sum, help with tuition fees, rent payments and possibly even a contribution towards the cost of a foundation year, so that you can meet the entry requirements of a full degree.  This is something you should speak to a prospective university or college about.

  • If you have been in local authority care and want to go to university, you apply for a £2,000 bursary from the local authority and financial support from the university or college.

  • Students in particular financial hardship can apply to their university to get the Access to Learning Fund.  This is paid out by the university, who decide who gets it and how much they receive.  (Note that you can only apply for this if you are studying in England.)

  • Of course, if you have little or no income, work less than 16 hours a week and haven’t registered as unemployed, you can apply for Income Support.  This is something you should speak to your local authority about, as procedures vary.

Theres is also a long list of options if you have children or dependent adults in your care.  If you are a Full-time student, you could apply for the Childcare Grant, the Parent’s Learning Allowance or the Adult Dependant’s Grant.

Disabled students also may apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances and other disability-related benefits.  This can also be applied for if you have a mental health condition or a specific learning difficulty, such as dyslexia.

 If you are studying medical, dentistry or healthcare subjects, you can apply for NHS bursaries, Social Work Bursaries are out there for social work students and people training to be teachers can get help from the National College for Teaching and Leadership.


Academic achievement cannot be – and isn’t – ignored by universities.  Top students can receive substantial payments from universities in exchange for bringing their knowledge to them, along with some sort of ambassador-type work.  The most noted are sports scholarships, though if a university is sponsored by a particular company, you might find that you could receive money for studying for a particular degree.  

My advice is to do a lot of research as to what you can get.  There is no shortage of support out there for students – hopefully this guide has given you a solid foundation to start your search!

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