Find out what support is available for higher education students who have arrived in the UK under the Ukraine Schemes.
This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
Who determines eligibility?
Universities and higher education institutions in Northern Ireland allocate their students a fee status for the purpose of charging tuition fees. There are three levels of fee status:
- a ‘home’ fee for students who live in Northern Ireland;
- a ‘home’ fee for students who live elsewhere in the UK;
- an ‘overseas’ fee for all other students.
For the 2022/23 academic year, undergraduate home fees are capped at £4,630 for students who live in Northern Ireland, and at £9,250 for students who live elsewhere in the UK. Overseas fees are set by institutions and can be much higher depending on the course and institution.
To receive publicly funded student support, including tuition fee loans and maintenance loans and grants, students who normally live in Northern Ireland must generally be allocated ‘Northern Ireland Student’ status by Student Finance NI.
When making decisions on student status, higher education institutions and Student Finance NI follow regulations produced by the Northern Ireland Executive.
What are the regulations?
Eligibility requirements for home fee status and student support in Northern Ireland are set out in the following regulations and in subsequent amendments:
- The Education (Student Loans) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998;
- The Student Fees (Qualifying Courses and Persons) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007;
- The Education (Student Support) (No. 2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009.
The regulations are complex. If a prospective student is unsure about their eligibility, they should discuss it with their university and Student Finance NI.
Who is eligible?
Generally, individuals must be resident and ‘settled’ in the UK on ‘the first day of the first academic year’ of their course to be eligible for home fee status and student support. They must generally also have been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK or Islands for the three years before that date.
Individuals who move to Northern Ireland from England, Wales, or Scotland for full-time study are eligible only for the higher home fee level (up to £9,250).
To determine eligibility for student support, a student’s age, previous study, course, and institution are also considered.
A settled person is someone ordinarily resident in the UK without any immigration restriction on the length of their stay. The regulations take this definition from immigration law (section 33(2A) of the Immigration Act 1971). Students with right of abode in the UK or indefinite leave to remain will meet the criteria.
Being ‘ordinarily resident’
A person is ordinarily resident if they normally and lawfully live in an area from choice. Temporary absences, including for work, are permitted. In reaching a judgement about whether a student fulfils the ordinarily resident criteria, assessors rely on legislation and case law from UK courts and tribunals.
‘The first day of the first academic year’
The official first day of an academic year is defined in regulations and is determined by a student’s course start date. It is:
- 1 September for courses that start between 1 August and 31 December;
- 1 January for courses that start between 1 January and 31 March;
- 1 April for courses that start between 1 April and 30 June;
- 1 July for courses that start between 1 July and 31 July.
What impact has Brexit had?
Following the UK Government’s decision to leave the EU, EEA nationals and their family members are no longer eligible for home fee status or student support in Northern Ireland, unless they hold ‘settled’ or ‘pre-settled’ status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
European nationals living in the UK
EEA and Swiss nationals, who have been granted settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, and Irish citizens, who don’t have to apply to the scheme, will be eligible for home fee status and student support on broadly the same basis as before Brexit.
For example, EU nationals with settled status, who live in Northern Ireland and have been ordinarily resident in the UK for three years before their course, will generally be eligible for home fee status and the full student support package, including tuition fee loans and maintenance loans and grants.
Nidirect has published a guide, Financial help for EU students, which provides more information.
UK nationals living in Europe
For courses starting between 1 August 2021 and 1 January 2028, UK nationals and their family members living in the EEA or Switzerland will generally be eligible for home fee status and tuition fee and maintenance loans if they meet the following conditions:
- they have lived in the EEA, Switzerland, or the UK for at least the last three years;
- they were living in the EEA or Switzerland on 31 December 2020;
- they have lived continuously in the EEA, Switzerland, or the UK between 31 December 2020 and the start of their course.
Are there any exceptions?
Students might be eligible for home fee status and student support if they meet the criteria for the following group of exceptional categories. These are:
- Refugees and family members;
- Persons granted humanitarian protection and family, and those with leave to enter or remain;
- Persons granted discretionary leave to remain and family members;
- Persons granted stateless leave and family members;
- Persons with section 67 leave and children;
- Persons granted Calais leave to remain;
- Persons granted leave to remain as a victim of domestic violence or abuse;
- Persons granted leave to remain as a bereaved partner, and children;
- Persons granted leave under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy or the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme; and British nationals evacuated or assisted in leaving Afghanistan;
- Persons granted leave under the Ukraine schemes.
Students might be eligible under the ‘long residence’ category if they are not a UK national and either:
- Under 18 and have lived in the UK for at least 7 years;
- 18 or over and have lived in the UK for at least 20 years (or at least half of their life).
The UK Council for International Student Affairs
The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) provides specialist information and advice to international students and education providers on fees and funding.
It has produced guidance on the eligibility categories for home student status in effect in Northern Ireland from 1 August 2021.
UKCISA also has a student advice line for discussing individual cases (Tel:+4420 7788 9214), available Monday to Friday (except for public holidays) between 1pm and 4pm.
Student Finance NI provides information on how to apply for student finance and repaying student loans. Students can also contact them if they are unsure whether they are eligible.
The Commons Library briefing Student support for undergraduates across the UK sets out the amount of financial support undergraduates may receive in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
Find out what support is available to students across the UK to help with their living costs.
This briefing outlines the student finance available to undergraduate higher education students in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. It also covers recent policy debates about the student support system in each nation.