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.
This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
Who determines eligibility?
The Welsh Government determines who pays ‘home’ fees for higher education courses in Wales. The categories that qualify for home fee status are set out in regulations. Higher education providers assess the fee status of their students following these regulations.
In Wales, tuition fees for full time undergraduate courses are capped at £9,000 per year for ‘home’ students. Fees for ‘international’ (or ‘overseas’) students are determined by providers and vary by course.
Students apply to Student Finance Wales for financial support with tuition fees and living costs. Student Finance Wales use the regulations produced by the Welsh Government to assess eligibility.
What are the regulations?
Eligibility requirements for home fee status and student support in Wales are set out in the following regulations and in subsequent amendments:
- The Education (Fees and Awards) (Wales) Regulations 2007 (as amended);
- The Higher Education (Qualifying Courses, Qualifying Persons and Supplementary Provision) (Wales) Regulations 2015 (as amended);
- The Education (Student Support) (Wales) Regulations 2017 (as amended);
- The Education (Student Support) (Wales) Regulations 2018 (as amended).
The regulations are complex. If a prospective student is unsure about their eligibility, they should discuss it with their university and Student Finance Wales.
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 student status.
With some exceptions, they must also have been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for the three years before that date. The three-year residency rule applies to UK nationals who have been living abroad (see below for an exception for UK nationals living in Europe).
To determine eligibility for student support, a student’s nationality, course, provider, age, and previous study 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 case law from UK courts and tribunals. It is possible for higher education providers and Student Finance Wales to reach different conclusions.
‘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’s exit from the European Union, the Welsh Government introduced changes to the regulations around home student status and eligibility for financial support.
From the 2021/22 academic year, the Welsh Government has ceased providing support to EU nationals and their family members who are not settled in the UK. EU nationals who began their course before 1 August 2021 will remain eligible for home fee status and support for the duration of their course if they continue to meet eligibility criteria.
The Welsh Government will provide support to those who start a course on or after 1 August 2021, and who are:
- EU, EEA, and Swiss nationals who benefit from citizens’ rights under the various withdrawal agreements;
- Family members of people of Northern Ireland;
- Children of Swiss nationals;
- Children of Turkish Workers;
- UK nationals living in the EEA and Switzerland;
- UK and EU nationals resident in Gibraltar;
- British and Irish Citizens under the Common Travel Area arrangement.
European nationals living in the UK
European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals, and their family members, who have been granted settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, will be eligible for home fee status and tuition fee and maintenance support on broadly the same basis as before Brexit.
For example, those who have been granted settled status (and Irish citizens, who are treated automatically as settled) will generally be eligible for home fee status and tuition fee and maintenance loans if they have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least three years.
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 support if they meet the following conditions:
- They have lived in the EEA, Switzerland, the UK, or Gibraltar 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, the UK, or Gibraltar 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 a limited group of exceptional categories.
A requirement to be ordinarily resident may also apply, although the Welsh Government has removed the requirement for three years ordinary residence prior to the first day of the first academic year of the course. The exceptional categories are:
- Refugees and family members;
- Persons granted humanitarian protection and family, and those with leave to enter or remain;
- 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;
- Persons granted leave under the Ukraine schemes and their families.
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.
Detailed criteria for the exceptional categories listed above are available on UKCISA’s website. It has also produced a guide for students starting courses on or after 1 August 2021 setting out the updated eligibility categories following Brexit.
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 Wales has guidance for students making an application, including information on how much student support they may be eligible to receive.
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 higher education students across the UK to help with their fees and living costs.
Find out what support is available for higher education students who have arrived in the UK from Ukraine.