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In the UK, higher education is a devolved matter, and each nation has its own funding arrangements and student finance system.

Tuition fees and student support

In all UK nations, students are charged tuition fees and publicly funded loans are available to cover the cost of fees. Scotland is unique in that tuition fees for eligible Scottish students are paid by the Scottish Government.

The different student funding bodies within the UK also provide living cost support in the form of publicly funded maintenance loans, grants, and bursaries. Additional funding may also be available to students depending on their personal circumstances, for example if they have a disability or childcare costs.  

Students receive support from the funding body of the nation in which they reside. Students studying on the same course may therefore receive different amounts of funding depending on which nation of the UK they lived in before beginning their study. 

To ensure they have applied for everything to which they may be entitled, students should consult the website of the respective student finance body for where they ordinarily reside: 

Information on eligibility for home fee status and student support is available in the relevant Commons Library casework article for England, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland

Students must reapply for support each year of their course. Students begin to repay any loans when they start earning over a certain amount. Grants and bursaries do not have to be repaid. Information on paying back student loans, the repayment threshold, and the current interest rate can be found for all UK nations at GOV.UK, Repaying your student loan.

The following charts and table provide a broad summary of key support, please see the respective nation’s section for full details and additional grants/loans.

 

Other funding sources

In addition to funding from the respective UK funding agencies, individual universities or colleges may provide scholarships, bursaries, or awards. These funds are allocated based on criteria set by the institution. Commonly used criteria include academic achievement, low income, geography, and support for particular subjects.

Information on these awards is on the websites of individual universities. Several websites also provide further sources of advice on student finance. These include:

The Commons Library casework article Cost of living support for students also sets out what other support is available to students across the UK to help with their living costs.

How much do students spend on living costs?

The 2022 Student Money Survey from Save the Student found that:

  • On average, students across the UK spent £924 per month on living costs. With about 45% of this figure spent on rent.
  • The average maintenance loan of respondents was £485 per month. This was £439 less than living costs, up from a gap of £340 in the 2021 survey.
  • Spending was below average in Wales (£852 per month) and Northern Ireland (£832), and above average in Scotland (£932). Within England, costs varied from £822 per month in the West Midlands to £1,089 in London.
  • 62% of students work part-time to help fund their education, making it the most common source of money for students, a change from the previous year where parents were the primary source.
  • 53% of students received a maintenance loan, 30% received some form of grant scholarship or bursary.
  • 59% of students received some support from their parents. On average this was worth £49.80 per month.
  • 82% of students worried about making ends meet, 66% said their maintenance loan was not large enough, and 63% asking their university for financial support or advice was not easy.

Policy background and developments

Across the UK, there has been much discussion about how to fund higher education, whether such funding models are sustainable and provide adequate support to students, and what impact student finance systems have on participation levels, particularly on students from low-income backgrounds.

Summaries of recent debates are set out in each respective section of this paper. These include discussion of the Post-18 Education and Funding Review in England, the impact of the Scottish Government’s tuition fee policy on student debt and participation; the introduction of tuition fee grants and the Diamond review in Wales; and policy developments in Northern Ireland following the formation of the new Executive in January 2020.

Further reading

The following Commons Library briefings contain statistics and information on student support in England:

The following Commons Library briefings contain information on student support in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland:


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