University tuition fees and funding
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Your university costs and the student finance available to you will depend on where you currently live, where in the UK you go to university and your parents' income. The salary you earn after graduation will also play a big part, as it affects when you start repaying your tuition fee loan and maintenance loan, how much interest they'll accrue and how much you'll pay back before the debt is wiped off. So think of tuition fees and student living costs as an indication of what you might have to repay, rather than definite amounts.
In 2019 the universities minister Chris Skidmore announced that universitiy tuition fees in England would remain frozen their current maximum of £9,250 for students starting university in the academic year 2020–2021. He also announced that EU students starting university in England in the 2020-2021 academic year 'will have guaranteed home fee status and financial support for the duration of courses' – that is, they'll pay the same amount in fees as students from the UK, and may be eligible for help with living costs (if they've lived in the UK for at least five years by the first day of their course) and tuition fee loans.
The maximum amount universities can charge you in tuition fees depends upon where in the UK they are based, and where in the UK you are living when you apply. For the academic year 2020-2021:
- universities in England can charge tuition fees of up to £9,250 per year to students from anywhere in the UK
- universities in Wales can charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year to students from anywhere in the UK
- universities in Scotland can charge tuition fees of up to £9,250 per year to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but tuition is free for students from Scotland (and also for students from other parts of the EU)
- universities in Northern Ireland can charge tuition fees of up to £4,395 to students from Northern Ireland and up to £9,250 to students from England, Scotland and Wales.
The majority of universities charge the full amount, meaning tuition for 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.
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. Your household income will affect how big a maintenance loan you can have and whether you are eligible for a grant.
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. For the academic year 2019–2020 you can receive a maximum maintenance loan of £7,529 if you live with your parents or £8,944 if you live away from home. Students living away from home in London can receive up to £11,672. Figures for 2020–2021 are not yet available.
You can apply to the Student Awards Agency 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 study elsewhere in the UK you'll need to pay your own fees but can apply for a loan to cover them. Funding varies a bit depending on whether you're classed as a 'young' or 'independent' student, which depends on your age but also on factors such as whether you have a child or live with a partner. Most students who go to university straight from school will class as young students and the following information relates to this group. If your household income is below £20,999 you can receive a £2,000 bursary and a £5,750 loan. The total amount you can receive will decrease if you have a higher household income. If your household income is £34,000 or above 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 £9,250, which you will have to repay. There are maintenance loans and grants to help with living costs. The total amount of money you'll receive in the academic year 2020–2021 is £8,335 if you stay living with your parents, £9,810 if you live away from home and study outside of London, and £12,260 if you live away from home and study in London. How much of this is grant and how much is loan depends on your household income.
There are additional grants that you be able to receive, such as help with extra costs if you are disabled.
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 Welsh Government website.
In terms of tuition fee loans, in the academic year 2019–2020 you can borrow up to £4,275 from Student Finance NI if you stay and study in Northern Ireland, or up to £9,250 if you do your degree elsewhere in the UK. Figures for 2020–2021 are not yet available. There's also a system of maintenance loans and maintenance grants to help with living costs; the amount you receive depends upon your household income.
Am I a home student or an overseas student? University fees for British citizens living abroad, and non-British citizens living in the UK
Students from the UK (and, currently, the rest of the EU) class as home students, and are eligible for the tuition fee rates outlined above. Students from elsewhere in the world are classed as overseas students and can be charged more for the same course. To have home student status in the UK:
- You must be 'settled' in the UK (that is, living here with no restrictions on how long you can stay) on 'the first day of the first academic year of the course' (officially 1 September for courses that start in the autumn, regardless of when term actually begins)
- You must be 'ordinarily resident' in the UK on this day (meaning that that's where you normally live), and to have been ordinarily resident here (or in the Channel Islands or on the Isle of Man) for the three years beforehand
- The main purpose of your residence here can't be to have received full-time education. For example, if your parents sent you to the UK for your schooling but you would otherwise have been living with them overseas, this wouldn't meet the criteria.
If you are a British citizen but your family lives overseas, you should check with individual universities, as they make decisions on a case-by-case basis and may be able to use their discretion if your case is borderline. As above, students from other EU countries will still be eligible for home student rates for courses starting in the 2020–2021 academic year.
The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) has more detail to help you assess whether you'd be eligible for home student status.
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 £11,000–£15,000 (typically at newer universities) to £41,000 to study medicine at Imperial College London (2019 entry). There may be funding support available within the UK and your own country – the British Council is a good place to start.
Students in England and Wales are not required to begin paying back their student loan until they are earning at least £25,725 (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 £27,000 you would repay £9 per month. The repayment threshold in Northern Ireland and Scotland is £18,935; however, the Scottish Government plans to raise the threshold in Scotland to 25,000 by April 2021. Again, you pay nine per cent on the portion of your income that exceeds the threshold – for example if you earn £27,000 you would pay £60 a month.
Student loans accrue interest, meaning your total debt will grow while you are paying it off. However, student debts will be written off after a certain number of years, in the April after your graduation, so you may find that you won’t pay back the full amount. For students currently starting university, debts will be written off after 30 years in England, Scotland and Wales, and after 25 years in Northern Ireland.
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.