Student finance for undergraduates

You plan to go to university or college to study further but aren’t sure about the costs, or how you can afford them. Student loans are available to help with tuition fees, and student grants and loans to help with day-to-day living costs. Find out what you’re entitled to, and how you pay back any loans.

Tuition fee loans for your course

Every university and higher education college will charge a tuition fee for each year that you study there. The amount they charge varies, and depends on where you live now and where you want to study. The maximum yearly tuition fees that publicly-funded universities and colleges can charge you in 2015/16 for higher education courses in each part of the UK are shown below.

Student home region Location of university or college      
  England Scotland Wales Northern Ireland
England Up to £9,000 Up to £9,000 Up to £9,000 Up to £9,000
Scotland Up to £9,000 No fee Up to £9,000 Up to £9,000
Wales Up to £9,000 Up to £9,000 Up to £9,000 Up to £9,000
Northern Ireland Up to £9,000 Up to £9,000 Up to £9,000 Up to £3,805
EU Up to £9,000 No fee Up to £9,000 Up to £3,805

(Source: UCAS, 2015)

You can get a tuition fee loan, which covers the full cost of your course, for every year of your studies. The tuition fee is paid directly to your university or college. You only start paying back this loan after you stop being a student and you are earning above a certain amount.

Because different funding rules apply, you should check with your nation’s student finance agency if you have received funding for previous undergraduate study, you plan to be a part-time or a postgraduate student, or you wish to study in a privately-funded university or college.

Students from Wales

Students from Wales can apply for a tuition fee grant of up to £5,190 and a tuition fee loan of up to £3,810 in 2015/16 to pay for their course in a publically-funded university or college anywhere in the UK. You would only repay the loan element of the tuition fee once you’re earning enough after you graduate. (Source: Student Finance Wales, June 2015)

Maintenance grants and loans for living costs

On top of tuition fees there are a number of other living costs you’ll need to pay for while you are a student. These include costs for accommodation, food, books and travel.

In England, student maintenance grants will no longer be available for new students starting in the 2016/17 academic year and will be replaced by a loans system. These will need to be repaid when you earn more than £21,000 per year. You can find out more on the GOV.UK website.

Maintenance grants and loans are available for each year of your studies to help with these costs. The maximum amount you can claim or borrow depends among other considerations on which UK country you’re from, your household income (for grants) and where you’ll be living during your studies.

You receive a payment at the start of each term (monthly in Scotland) into your student account. In Scotland, maintenance grants are known as bursaries and in Wales, they are known as Assembly Learning Grants.

Choosing between student grants and loans

You should work out how much maintenance grants and bursaries can offset your need for maintenance loans or overdrafts. While any maintenance grant you receive reduces the amount of maintenance loan you can take out, you do not have to pay back grants after you complete your course.

If you need to take out maintenance loans, then these will almost always be more cost-effective than taking out commercial loans and certainly cheaper than funding your living costs as a student on credit cards, store cards or payday loans if you can’t make regular and full repayments. Like tuition fee loans, you only pay back maintenance loans in monthly installments if you’re earning enough when you graduate.

Other forms of student financial help

There are a number of other financial support packages such as bursaries which you may be able to access as an undergraduate instead of loans depending on your circumstances. These include support for disabled students, students from low-income households, those with children or adult dependents, and those studying for particular professions (such as the NHS).

Managing your student budget

Now you know your student income from maintenance grants, bursaries and loans, it is vital that you put in place a plan to manage your day-to day costs. The more effectively you can stick to a budget in your first year as a student, the more it will help you plan how much you might need to borrow in future years from loans and overdrafts, and what you need to pay back once you are earning enough after you graduate. Remember that nothing you borrow to fund your student life is free money!

Understand more about the costs you are likely to incur as a student and how you can manage them successfully with the income you have.

Repaying student loans

Student loan repayments are linked to your income. For courses funded by student finance agencies in England or Wales on or after September 2012, you’ll only start making repayments from 2016 when you earn £21,000 or over in a year. For courses funded by student finance agencies in Northern Ireland or Scotland, repayments start when earnings reach £16,910. Your employer will deduct payments from your salary. If you are self-employed you will make repayments as part of your self-assessment tax returns.

You pay interest on tuition fee and maintenance loans from the moment you receive them as a student until you pay back your loans in full. For courses funded by student finance agencies in England or Wales on or after September 2012, if you’ve not repaid the full loan 30 years after the first payment you make, the rest of the loan is written off and you no longer have to pay anything. In Northern Ireland, the loan is written off after 25 years, and in Scotland after 35 years.

For more details, see our article on student loan repayments.

Students often forget that they have to pay back maintenance loans as well as tuition fee loans when they are earning enough after they graduate. This can come as a shock in your pay packet when you see the first monthly deduction, so be prepared. To understand more about the range of the costs you’ll have you think about when you graduate, try using our money tips tool for graduates.

Further Information

For more detailed information on student grants, loans and other financial support available for undergraduate, part-time or postgraduate study, speak to a student money adviser at your university or college, or contact your nation’s student finance agency (or the nation where you plan to study if you are not a UK resident, including if you are from the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man):