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Can I get higher education funding from my university or college?

By David Malcolm

Friday 15 March 2013 Higher education

Academic institutions across the UK offer funding to higher education students in the form of bursaries, scholarships and other awards, which are grants of money that you don’t need to pay back. Some institutions may offer a fee waiver instead, which means you’re exempt from all or part of the tuition fees. Here’s a guide to what’s available.

This topic contains the following:

Am I automatically eligible to get funding from my university or college?

Each institution has its own rules about who qualifies for their funding, and how much you get. Funds are usually awarded at the institution’s discretion, eg for academic achievement or because of your personal circumstances.

However, in some cases you’re automatically entitled to receive support, depending on where you get your student funding and if your university or college charges a high level of fees (the following figures are for 2012/2013).

England: if you get your funding from Student Finance England and began an undergraduate (or equivalent) or Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) course:

  • Before 1 September 2012 and you receive a full maintenance or special support grant, you may be entitled to get a bursary from your institution of at least ten per cent of the tuition fees, if the fees are more than £2,906.
  • On or after 1 September 2012 and your household income is £25,000 a year or less, you may be entitled to get a bursary as part of the National Scholarship Programme (NSP). The bursary can take the form of cash (up to £1,000), help with tuition fees and accommodation, a free foundation year to help you meet the entry criteria for a higher education course, or a combination of these. NSP bursaries aren’t guaranteed, however.

You can also apply for a bursary if you’ve been in local authority care. For more information, see Extra money to pay for university.

Wales: if you get your funding from Student Finance Wales and began a full-time undergraduate (or equivalent) or PGCE course before 1 September 2011, you may be able to get a bursary as part of the Welsh Bursary Scheme if your university or college charges fees of £3,465 or more. The minimum bursary available is £347 but you may get more. To be eligible for the bursary you must be getting a full Assembly Learning Grant or special support grant. If you were a gap-year student during the 2011/2012 academic year you may also be eligible to get it. For more information, see Welsh Bursary Scheme.

Also, if you’re studying part-time for your first undergraduate or equivalent qualification and you get means-tested benefits, your only income is benefits or you’re registered as a job seeker you may be able to get a fee waiver (your university or college won’t charge you tuition fees). Speak to your university or college to find out more.

Northern Ireland: if you get your funding from Student Finance NI and began a full-time undergraduate (or equivalent) or PGCE course after 1 September 2006, you may be able to get a bursary if your university or college charges fees of £3,465 or more. The minimum available is £347 but you may get more. To be eligible for the bursary you must be getting a full maintenance grant or special support grant. For more information, see A guide to financial support for higher education students in 2012/13.

I’m a part-time student – can I get any extra help?

If you’re a part-time student, you may be able to get extra funding from your university or college.

England: you may be able to get extra support for your tuition fees from your university or college as part of the Additional Fee Support Scheme (AFSS). You may be eligible if:

  • you’re studying part-time for an undergraduate degree or equivalent
  • your course started before 1 September 2012
  • you get a grant for tuition fees from the government in England.

You may be able to get an extra grant if your fees are higher than your grant from the government.

I’m a postgraduate student – what support can I get?

Some universities offer scholarships (or ‘studentships’) for postgraduate study, which pay some or all of your fees and include a maintenance grant (or ‘stipend’). Competition for these is extremely fierce, so find out and apply as soon as possible.

Alternatively, you might be able to get a teaching or research assistantship position. You get paid to work part-time at the university while you study, so you gain valuable teaching experience while supplementing your income.

As a teaching assistant you normally get a salary equivalent to a research council stipend (around £13,590 for 2012) and you don’t need to pay tuition fees. In return, you provide 120 to 180 hours of teaching time over the university year (classroom teaching, tutorials, laboratory demonstrations and paper marking), which is about six to eight hours per week. Most positions are for a number of years, so you may progress from basic marking and tutorials in the first year through to full lecturing while you study.

Vacancies are advertised internally and on each university's website. As with most funding, the earlier you apply, the more chance you stand of being successful. Try to meet with staff in your department to get your name known if you’re interested.

Prospects has more information about assistantships, and see What funding is available for postgraduates studying in the UK?

What if I’m in financial difficulty?

All colleges and universities have a discretionary hardship fund, and you may be able to get help from these funds if you’re facing financial difficulties, whether you’re a full- or part-time undergraduate (or equivalent) or postgraduate student.

The funds are called different things depending on where you study:

Whatever the name, they might be able to help you with grants or short-term loans. No funding is guaranteed, but most institutions will be as sympathetic as possible. See Where do I go for help if I’m in financial difficulty? for more.

How do I find out what funding an institution offers?

First of all, check the institution’s website. You should be able to find all the details you need about what help is on offer and whether you’re eligible. If you can’t find what you want online, phone them. You can also search for the available funding from institutions online using sites like Scholarship Search, Prospects, Student Cashpoint and Unigrants.

If you’re studying dance, drama or production, see Can I get higher education funding to study dance and drama?

England: each university or college in England that charges £6,000 or more for a course must announce an ‘access agreement’ before September every year, giving details of bursaries, summer schools and outreach programmes designed to encourage applications from students from all backgrounds. You can find the access agreements for all the English institutions here. You can use them to find out what funding an institution offers to new students, but the agreements can get very complicated, so if you already know which institution(s) you want to apply to, you’ll probably find it easier to check their website or give them a call.

How do I apply for funding?

You must apply directly to the university or college to get funding – details of how to do it should be on the institution’s website. However, if you’re automatically entitled to a bursary (eg because you come from a low income household) the institution may contact you.

If you’re awarded a cash bursary it’s paid directly into your bank account by your university or college.

This information was updated in 2013. NUS provides this information in good faith and has taken care to make sure it’s accurate. However, student finance issues can be complicated, and rules change frequently. You should contact the advice centre in your students' union, college or university for support if you’re uncertain or need more help.