Aside from some exceptional immigration categories, individuals must generally be resident and ‘settled’ in the UK to be eligible for home fee status and student finance. They must generally also have been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for the three years before that date.

Students from Hong Kong with a British National (Overseas) visa have immigration restrictions on their stay and so are not settled. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, such students are therefore not eligible for home fee status or student finance. This means they must pay international fees and cannot access publicly funded loans or grants.

In Scotland, those holding BN(O) visas are eligible for home fee status after three years of residence, which means they can access student support, including free undergraduate tuition.

Alternative sources of funding include scholarships and bursaries, and small amounts from educational trusts and charities.

What is a British National (Overseas) visa?

People from Hong Kong were able to register as British Nationals (Overseas) before 1 July 1997. As a result, they and their family members may be eligible for a British National (Overseas) visa, or BN(O) visa, which would allow them to live, work, and study in the UK.

BN(O) visa holders can apply to stay in the UK for either:

  • Two years and six months
  • Five years

They can extend their visa once they are in the UK if they want to stay longer. After they have lived here for five years, BN(O) visa holders can apply for ‘settlement’ to remain in the UK indefinitely.

Eligibility for home fee status and student finance

Higher education is devolved in the UK and eligibility for home fee status and student finance differs slightly depending on where someone normally lives. See the relevant Commons Library casework article for detailed information on EnglandWalesScotland, or Northern Ireland.

Across the UK, higher education providers allocate their students a fee status that determines how much they pay for tuition. Fees are regulated for students who normally live in the UK by their respective government. Overseas/international fees are unregulated and set by providers, which means they are often much higher than ‘home’ fees.

When making decisions on fee status, higher education providers follow regulations produced by the governments of each part of the UK. The respective student finance body in each part of the UK also follows these regulations to determine eligibility for student support. This includes loans, grants, and, in Scotland, free undergraduate tuition.

What do the regulations say?

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 finance. They must also have been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for the three years before that date.

A settled person is someone ordinarily resident in the UK without any immigration restrictions on the length of their stay. The regulations take this definition from immigration law (section 33(2A) of the Immigration Act 1971). Students with indefinite leave to remain or granted the right to stay in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme will meet the criteria. A person is ordinarily resident if they normally and lawfully live in an area from choice.

There are certain exceptional categories included in the regulations. These primarily grant people allowed to live in the UK for humanitarian reasons access to home fee status and student finance.

BN(O) visa holders in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland

Someone with a BN(O) visa has restrictions on their stay in the UK and can only study and work for either two years and six months or five years. This means they are not settled, and so in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, they are not eligible for home fee status or publicly funded student support.

After they have lived in the UK for five years, they can apply to live in the UK permanently, and so would become eligible for home student status.

Why are students from Ukraine or Afghanistan eligible?

Students might be eligible for home fee status and support if they meet the criteria for a limited group of exceptional categories of students that have a specified connection with the UK.

In England, these categories are set out in the Education (Fees and Awards) (England) Regulations 2007 (as amended). In recent years, these regulations have been amended to include students here in the UK under the Afghanistan and Ukraine schemes. Similar exemptions also apply to these groups of students in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.

There is no similar exceptional category for people with BN(O) visas in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Are there any plans to change the criteria?

In December 2022, the UK Government said there were no plans to review access to home fee status in England for BN(O) visa holders.

Earlier that year, a number of MPs, peers, academics, and business leaders had written to the Times calling on the Government to extend home fee status to BN(O) visa holders. Their letter said:

The government has rightly agreed that young people arriving under Ukraine visa schemes should have home student status. We believe that exceptional status should be extended to those arriving under the BNO visa too. We call on the government and the devolved administrations to do the right thing.

In 2023, there was a petition calling on the Government to extend eligibility for home fee status to those who hold a BN(O) visa, but it did not reach the required number of signatures for further action.

BN(O) visa holders in in Scotland

In 2023, the Scottish Government announced it would extend home fee status and free tuition to migrants living legally in Scotland who have been resident in the UK for three years.  

The Scottish government has confirmed that those holding BN(O) visas will therefore be eligible for home fee status if they meet the three-year residency criteria. In June 2023, Scotland’s Minister for Higher and Further Education said:

I am pleased to confirm that from Academic Year 2023-24 all students who meet the following criteria will be eligible for home fees status and student financial support in Further Education and Higher Education:

  • Ordinarily resident in the UK for three years prior to the relevant date;
  • Ordinarily resident in Scotland on the relevant date; and
  • Granted a form of leave to enter or remain in the UK, where that leave has not expired.

As the British National (Overseas) visa would be considered a form of leave to enter or remain in the UK, a student holding this visa would be eligible for support in the event that they satisfy the remaining criteria.

The change was covered in an article published by Hong Kong watch in June 2023, which called for the rest of the UK to similarly allow BN(O) visa holders to qualify for home fee status.

What other funding is available?

Scholarships and bursaries

Universities may offer scholarships and bursaries to students who have excelled academically or are from a disadvantaged background. Opportunities will be advertised on providers’ websites and listed on websites such as the Scholarship Hub, FindAMasters, and Postgraduate Search.

Each university will have its own rules about eligibility and the amounts available. The more generous sources of funding are likely to be competitive and most are targeted at postgraduate students.

A UCAS article on scholarships, grants, and bursaries has more information.

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.

The London School of Economics has published a list of charitable funding available to students. St George’s Medical School has published a list for medical students. Organisations such as Turn2UsFamily Action, and Funds Online also have searchable online databases of grants.

The House of Commons Library 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

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