This briefing explains the Government's plans to introduce a Lifelong Loan Entitlement. It also considers reaction and issues raised by the education and employment sectors.
This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
Can those over 60 receive funding for undergraduate degrees in England?
The Government currently provides loans for undergraduate students to cover tuition fees and help with living costs. There is currently no upper age limit for tuition fee loans meaning students over the age of 60 can access them.
However, students are not eligible for a maintenance loan if they are 60 or over on the first day of the first academic year of their course. Instead, full-time students aged 60 and over may be eligible for a ‘special support loan’ of up to £4,221 for the 2023/24 academic year.
The special support loan is fully means-tested, which means the maximum amount is only available to those with a household income of £25,000 or less (PDF). The loan amount is reduced at higher household incomes and those with a household income above £43,812 do not qualify for any loan. This is illustrated below.
The loan amount is not affected by where the student lives or studies.
There is other financial support available for students of all ages in specific circumstances, such as the:
How will the Lifelong Learning Entitlement affect the over 60s?
The LLE will provide new students with a tuition fee loan entitlement of £37,000 (equivalent to four years of study in today’s fees) and a maintenance loan to help with living costs. Returning students will be able to access a residual entitlement based on how much funding they have previously received for study. Prospective students over the age of 60 will not be eligible for a tuition fee loan under the LLE but may qualify for maintenance support. Under the current system, those over 60 can access tuition fees for undergraduate degrees, so the LLE represents a loss of tuition fee entitlement for this group.
Can those over 60 receive funding for postgraduate degrees in England?
A Master’s Loan for postgraduate students who live in England has been available since 2016/17. Eligible students receive one payment which can be used towards both tuition fees and living costs. The maximum loan entitlement for the 2023/24 academic year is £12,167.
However, those aged 60 and over on the first day of the academic year of their course are not eligible for a Master’s Loan. The relevant regulations (regulation 3a of the Education (Postgraduate Master’s Degree Loans) Regulations 2016) state students who have “reached the age of 60 on the first day of the academic year in which the designated course starts” are ineligible for a Master’s Loan.
Student must also be under 60 on the first day of the first academic year of their course to access a Doctoral Loan. There is other financial support available for postgraduate students of all ages in specific circumstances, such as the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
Why are those over 60 not eligible for postgraduate loans in England?
The Government has said the decision to have an upper age limit of 60 for Master’s Loans was to ensure “value for money” for taxpayers. In February 2023, the Minister for Skills and Further and Higher Education, Robert Halfon, said:
The upper age limit of 60 years old for postgraduate master’s loans was put in place to ensure that the overall scheme remains affordable to the taxpayer and offers value for money. The age limit is applicable to all subjects and is designed to restrict eligibility to those statistically most likely to continue in long-term employment and be able to repay the loan.
The Government has also said there are no plans to amend the loan eligibility criteria or undertake any assessment of its impact.
Is this age discrimination?
In its initial consultation on introducing financial support for postgraduate study (PDF) in March 2015, the Government considered restricting Master’s Loans to those aged 30 and under, because evidence showed this group was most in need of financial support for postgraduate study. The Government argued those over 30 were more likely to be able to secure funding through bank loans, personal savings, or their employer.
The Government said this would not violate the Equality Act 2010 because it was an attempt to achieve a ‘legitimate aim’, namely to provide financial support to the group that faced the greatest barriers to funding their studies.
However, this attracted criticism for barring over 30s from lower socio-economic backgrounds from funding, and the Government ultimately decided to raise the age limit for postgraduate funding to 60 instead (PDF).
Student support for those over 60 in the rest of the UK
The Scottish Government provides funding to undergraduate students who normally live in Scotland to cover their tuition fees (those studying elsewhere in the UK may be eligible for a tuition fee loan of up to £9,250) and to help with their living costs. There is no upper age limit for free tuition or a tuition fee loan, or for bursaries/grants, but students aged 61 or over on the first day of their course are not eligible for a living cost loan.
The Scottish government provides postgraduate funding for those studying a Master’s degree or Postgraduate diploma. A tuition fee loan of up to £7,000, is available to all ages, but the postgraduate living cost loan of up to £4,500, is not available for those who will be 61 or over on the first day of their course.
From 2024/25, Scotland will introduce a Special Support Loan of £2,400, which the Student Awards Agency Scotland says “will be available to all higher education and postgraduate students”.
Government funding is not available at doctoral level.
Student Finance Wales offers a tuition fee loan of up to £9,250 a year. There is no age limit for a tuition fee loan.
Student Finance Wales provides for students’ living costs through a mixture of maintenance loan and maintenance grant and the ratio of each depends on household income. Those over 60 can qualify for maintenance grants, but not a maintenance loan. However, those over 60 can apply for a special support grant instead.
Student Finance NI provides tuition fee loans to assist students with their tuition fees. For 2023/24, this is up to £4,710 for students studying in Northern Ireland, and £9,250 for those studying in the rest of the UK. Those studying in the Republic of Ireland are eligible for a student contribution charge loan of 3000 (2023/24 academic year). These are available regardless of age.
Those aged over 60 at the start of their course are not eligible for a maintenance loan. However, they may be eligible to get the special support grant which is a payment of up to £3,475 (dependent on individual circumstances). Those who receive the full entitlement of special support grant may also be entitled to a bursary or award from their educational provider.
Student Finance NI provides a postgraduate tuition fee loan of up to £6,500, which has no age limit. Students must fund any shortfall between their course costs and the postgraduate tuition fee loan.
What other support is available?
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. The more generous sources of funding are likely to be competitive. For more information, see the Commons Library casework article Finding funding for a master’s degree.
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 (Word doc).
Organisations such as Turn2Us, Family Action, and Funds Online have searchable online databases of grants. 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
Advanced Learner Loans are available to learners over the age of 19 to help fund level 3, 4, 5, or 6 qualifications not covered by undergraduate student finance. The University of the Third Age also hosts interest groups on a range of topics for those no longer in full time work, although participation does not lead to formal qualifications.
For further information please see the following Library publications:
- The Lifelong Loan Entitlement
- Eligibility for home fee status and student support in England
- Finding funding for a master’s degree
- Higher education in the UK: Systems, policy approaches, and challenges
About the authors: Siobhan Wilson is a researcher, and Paul Bolton is a statistician, at the House of Commons Library, both specialise in higher education.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.
Find out what funding might be available for students wanting to do a master’s degree in the UK.
Find out what support is available to higher education students across the UK to help with their fees and living costs.