University tuition fees and funding
University education became greatly more expensive when the cap on annual fees was increased from £3,290 to £9,000 in 2012. Although everybody’s circumstances are different, it is possible to gain a general idea of how much your education will cost and how long it may take to pay off your debt.
In July 2015 the then chancellor, George Osborne, announced that universities will be allowed to increase fees in line with inflation from September 2017, if they meet standards for excellent teaching. The figures given in this article are for courses starting in September 2017.
The maximum amount universities can charge you depends upon where in the UK they are based, and where in the UK you are living when you apply. For courses starting in 2017:
- universities in England can charge up to £9,250 per year to students coming from anywhere in the UK
- universities in Scotland can charge up to £9,250 per year to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but tuition is free for students from Scotland
- universities in Wales can charge up to £9,000 per year to students from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and up to £4,046 to students from Wales.
The situation for universities in Northern Ireland is not yet clear. Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University are currently expecting to charge £4,030 per year to students from Northern Ireland and either £9,250 or £9,000 to students from England, Scotland and Wales.
The majority of universities charge the full amount, meaning a three-year course will cost at least £27,750. Other expenses must be considered: rent and food; course materials; travel; personal items; and your social life.
Students in England and Wales are not required to begin making repayments until they are earning at least £21,000 (the rules are different for students who began university before the loan repayment system changed in 2012). The amount due will be nine per cent of the earnings that exceed the threshold – so, for example, if you were earning £21,100 you would repay £9 per year. The repayment threshold in Northern Ireland and Scotland is £17,495.
Student loans accrue interest, meaning your total debt will grow while you are paying it off. However, student debts will be written off after 30 years, in the April after your graduation, so you may find that you won’t pay back the full amount.
Fees and financial support for university study
Tuition fees and loans differ depending on where you live in the UK. In general, you can apply for maintenance loans to help with living costs and for tuition fee loans to cover the cost of study. Loans must be paid back. You may also be able to apply for a means-tested maintenance grant (bursary in Scotland), which does not need to be paid back. Maintenance grants are not available in England; larger loans are available in a few instances, for example if you are disabled and qualify for particular benefits. Your household income will affect how big a maintenance loan you can have and whether you are eligible for a grant. A special support grant is available for students who are receiving other benefits, and this does not reduce the amount of loan you can get.
There is a useful calculator on the government’s website that will give you an estimation of how much maintenance loan you will receive if you live in England.
You can apply to Student Finance England for an annual tuition fee loan of up to £9,250, which is given directly to your university and must be paid back. You can receive a maximum maintenance loan of £7,097 if you live with your parents or £8,430 if you live away from home. Students living away from home in London can receive up to £11,002.
You can apply to the Student Awards Agency for Scotland to pay your fees in full, if you choose to study at a university in Scotland and meet residency requirements. If you want to stydy elsewhere in the UK you'll need to pay your own fees but can apply for a loan to cover them. If your household income is below £18,999 you can receive a £1,875 bursary and a £5,750 loan. The bursary and loan you can receive will decrease if you have a higher household income. If your household income exceeds £33,999 you cannot receive a bursary but can still receive a loan of up to £4,750.
You can apply to Student Finance Wales for a tuition fee loan of up to £4,296, which you will have to repay. The rest of your fees, up to £4,954, will be paid for you in a grant via a grant that you don't have to repay. There are maintenance loans and grants to help with living costs. The Welsh government learning grant works on a sliding scale based on parental income. The maximum you can receive is £5,161, if your parents earned less than £18,370 in the financial year 2015–2016. If your parents earned over £50,002 you’re not eligible for any grant.
For every pound of Welsh Government Learning Grant you receive, the amount of maintenance loan you can receive decreases – so you can borrow more if you receive little or no grant. If you stay living with your parents while at university you can borrow between £4,019 and £5,358 in maintenance loan, depending on how much grant you receive. If you live away from home you can receive between £5,191 and £6,922.
Once you begin making repayments, the Welsh government may provide you with a partial cancellation of your maintenance loan of up to £1,500. This is a scheme the government introduced in 2012 to help with student debt and you can find full details on the Student Loans Company website.
Figures for student loans and grants for courses starting in 2017 are not yet available. For the academic year 2016–2017 students who lived in Northern Ireland could apply to Student Finance NI for a loan for the full amount of their tuition fees. They could also apply to Student Finance NI for a maintenance loan, ranging from £3,750 to £6,780. Students could receive a maintenance grant or special support grant of up to £3,475 if their household income was under £19,203 but nothing if it was above £41,065.
The rules deciding whether you are a home student or an overseas student are complex. If you were born in Britain but your family now lives overseas, you should check with individual universities, as they make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, to be classified as a home student you must be a British citizen and have lived in the UK for at least three years immediately before you begin your course. If you are an EU resident, then your tuition fees will be the same as other residents in the country your chosen university is in. If you are a resident of a non-EU country, then your tuition fees are likely to be significantly higher and you will be expected to prove you have funding in place to cover the cost. Check with the individual university beforehand – annual fees can range from around £11,00 to over £35,000 for medical degrees at some London universities. There may be funding support available within the UK and your own country – The British Council is a good place to start.
Some students may gain sponsorship for their degree, which will assist with their course costs. This is most common for engineering and construction students.
- How to get sponsored for a full-time engineering degree
- How to get sponsored for a full-time construction degree
Many universities offer bursaries and scholarships. There are also charities you can apply to for grants. Many have specific caveats or are restricted to students taking certain subjects, and it is likely they will only offer grants of a few hundred pounds. UCAS can offer more information. You could also ask your local library if it has a copy of The Guide to Educational Grants or The Directory of Grant Making Trusts. Other guides are available, both online and in print. Carry out internet searches using terms such as ‘university grants’ or ‘education grants’, or ask for advice at your local library.
Most banks will offer student accounts that come with zero per cent overdrafts. When it comes to choosing your bank you should probably ignore freebies and choose the account with the largest limit. Be careful not to go over your limit or you will rapidly start incurring charges. Credit cards are best used for emergencies only as you run the risk of incurring further charges and going deeper into debt. You may also have financial support from your parents. If they offer to help you, then make sure it’s clear from the outset what you are agreeing to – including terms of possible repayment.