This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.

Further education generally comprises qualifications studied at college by post-16 students at level 5 and below in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and at SCQF level 6 or below in Scotland. Students doing Higher National Certificates or Diplomas (HNCs/HNDs) are eligible for higher education student finance.

Further education is devolved, which means eligibility for financial support and the nature and amount of what is available varies across the UK. Individuals can search for courses online and get advice on funding from:

In addition to the support available from their respective government, students may be able to get support from their employer or charitable trusts, as well as through the benefits system.

England

Tuition fee support

Further education students in England do not have to pay tuition fees if they are under 24 and studying for their first level 3 (A Level or equivalent) qualification.

Advanced Learner Loans are available to cover course fees for students 19 or older taking eligible qualifications at level 3 or higher that are not designated for higher education student finance.

Many essential skills courses such as reading, writing, and maths are free, as are courses funded under various government initiatives, including skills bootcamps and the free courses for jobs offer.

Living cost support

Various bursaries and loans are available to help students with day-to-day living costs:

  • The 16-19 Bursary Fund is available for items and costs relating to a further education course, such as books, specialist clothing, transport, and food. There are two types of 16 to 19 bursaries:
    • Bursaries for defined vulnerable groups (including care-experienced students or those claiming certain benefits).
    • Discretionary bursaries which providers award using policies they set, in line with Department for Education funding rules.
  • Learner Support is available to students aged 19 or over who are in financial hardship. It can help to cover travel costs, accommodation, materials and equipment, and childcare.
  • For students using an Advanced Learner Loan to fund their course fees, the Advanced Learner Loan bursary fund can help to pay for things related to study such as travel, childcare, and course accommodation.
  • There is also specialist funding available for college accommodation, help with childcare costs, transport costs, and for students attending a private performing arts school.

Scotland

Detailed information on further education student support in Scotland is available in an article published by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe). The Student Information Scotland funding calculator can help students find out what financial support they might be eligible for.

Tuition fee support

Most full-time further education students in Scotland do not have to pay tuition fees if they meet certain residency conditions. While students studying part-time and on distance learning courses will generally have to pay for their tuition, they may receive a fee waiver if they receive certain benefits, are on a low income, are disabled, or are care experienced.

Students aged 16 and over who are unemployed or earning less than £22,000 per year may be eligible for an Individual Training Account to help with the costs of a part-time course.

Living cost support

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is available to 16- to 19-year-old students from households with low income. Young people under the age of 22 may be eligible for free bus travel.

Bursaries are available for adult further education students at colleges to help cover living costs, and study and travel expenses.

Additional funding is also available for care-experienced students, estranged students, students with dependents, students with childcare costs, and students with additional support needs.

Students who experience financial difficulty accessing or remaining in further education can also apply to their college for discretionary/hardship funding.

Wales

Tuition fee support

Students aged between 16 and 18 usually do not have to pay tuition fees, but those over 19 might have to pay for their tuition. Most further education colleges offer free or discounted tuition to learners from low-income families, disabled learners, and learners on benefits.

Living cost support

In Wales, Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is available for 16- to 18-year-old students from a low-income household. Subsidised transport is available for 16- to 19-year-olds in education.

Students aged 19 and over might qualify for a Welsh Government Learning Grant to help with study costs if their household income is £18,370 or less.

A Financial Contingency Fund is administered by colleges and supports students in financial difficulty with childcare costs, transport, meals, equipment, and learning materials.

Northern Ireland

Tuition fee support

There are no tuition fees for full-time students aged between 16 and 18 studying level 1 to 3 qualifications. For students aged 19 and over doing full-time and part-time level 1 to 3 qualifications, Further Education Grants are available to cover tuition fees.

Living cost support

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is available to 16- to 19-year-olds from low-income households who stay on at school or go to a further education college in Northern Ireland.

Parents aged between 16 and 20 studying at a further education college can receive help with childcare costs from the Care to Learn (NI) Scheme.

Full-time students aged 19 and over in receipt of a Further Education Grant may be entitled to financial support towards living costs, study costs, and childcare costs. The amount of support a student can receive is based on their household income, whether they are independent or live with their parents, and whether they are studying full- or part-time.

Other support

Charitable funding

Students can apply to educational trusts and charities for small amounts of funding if they meet an organisation’s eligibility criteria. This process is explained in a document published by London Metropolitan University.

Organisations such as Turn2UsFamily Action, and Funds Online have searchable online databases of grants. The Register of Educational Endowments is a list of Scottish trusts. The National Zakat Foundation may support Muslim students who do not feel able to access student loans because of their faith.

The House of Commons Library also holds reference books to help identify relevant funding (parliamentary log in required). These books may be available in larger public libraries. They include:

  • The Guide to Educational Grants
  • The Directory of Grant Making Trusts
  • The Grants Register

Childcare support

For detailed information on the support available to students with childcare costs, see the Commons Library casework article Childcare support for students.

Benefit support

Most full-time students are not eligible to claim Universal Credit, but there are some exceptions. Students may qualify for disability-related benefits and financial support, such as Personal Independence Payment.

Students who want to check what benefit support they may be eligible for should seek advice from a professional welfare specialist. Welfare rights advisers can be found using the postcode finder on the Advice Local website.

If students are having problems claiming Universal Credit, they can contact the confidential Citizens Advice Help to Claim service.

Employer support

Some organisations offer financial support or sponsorship to their employees for undertaking further education courses. The University of Essex has published a blogpost on how to ask an employer to fund your education.

Government ‘Help for Households’

For information on government schemes and other financial support, see Help for Households.

If a student gets Universal Credit, or if they are in receipt of certain other means-tested benefits or tax credits, they may be eligible to receive any or all of three instalments of Cost of Living Payment totalling £900 in 2023/24.

For more information, see the Commons Library briefing Cost of Living Payments: Overview and FAQs.

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