Back to advice

Can I get higher education funding in the UK?

By David Malcolm

Friday 22 March 2013 Higher education

In order to get higher education support from the government in the UK, you and the course you’re taking must be eligible. Here are some details about eligibility for funding, with links to more information.

This topic contains the following:

How does where I live affect what funding I can get?

Student funding in the UK is all about which country is your ordinary place of residence before you go off to study. As a general rule, to get government funding you must:

  • usually live in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland
  • have been living in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for three years before starting your course (temporary absences such as holidays, temporary jobs and work for the UK armed forces don’t detract from this)
  • be living in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland on the first day of your first academic year.

As well as this, you must be a UK national or have ‘settled status’ (no restrictions on how long you can stay) – but you may be able to get funding if you’re:

  • a European Union (EU) national, or family member of one
  • the child of a Swiss national
  • the child of a Turkish worker
  • a European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss migrant worker, or family member of one
  • a refugee, or family member of one
  • an asylum seeker who has humanitarian protection.

The government body that provides your student finance depends on the UK country that’s your ordinary place of residence. For example, if you’re a resident in England, you apply to Student Finance England for funding, and if you’re a resident in Wales, you apply to Student Finance Wales. Here are the providers of government student funding in the UK:

If you’re a UK national but you’ve been living in another EEA country or Switzerland before returning to the UK to study, you may be eligible for support, but you must apply to the UK country where you were resident before you moved away (eg if you moved from London to Norway, you should apply for support in England).

If the residency criteria for one UK country apply to you, you can’t get the government funding that’s available to students resident in the other countries. If you move to another UK country solely in order to take your course, you retain your original residency status. For example, if the residency criteria for England apply to you, you can’t get the government funding that’s available to students resident in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland – and if you move to one of those countries in order to take your course, you retain your status as an English resident.

However, in some circumstances your residency status might change (eg if you move from England to Scotland for reasons other than education), so seek advice from your students’ union or local authority.

In short, the rules on residency are complicated – and this is only a summary. If you’re unsure about your status you should contact your student finance provider, an adviser at your university or college, or your students’ union for further guidance. The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) also has a lot of information about residency for international students.

I’m from the Channel Islands or Isle of Man – does residence in the UK apply to me?

If you usually live in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, you aren’t considered as resident in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland for the purposes of student funding. Tuition fees and student support are different for you – to find out more, see I’m from the Channel Islands or Isle of Man – what higher education funding is available to me?

Does my age entitle me to funding?

There’s no lower age limit for government funding, but if you’re under 18 years old and you want to take out a student loan, your parent or guardian must act as guarantor until you can ratify the loan agreement yourself. As to upper age limits, that depends on where you get your funding:

  • England, Wales and Northern Ireland: if you get your funding from Student Finance England, Wales or NI, there’s no upper age limit for tuition fee loans or maintenance grants. However, to apply for a maintenance loan for living costs you must be under 60 years old when your course starts.
  • Scotland: if you get your funding from SAAS, there’s no upper age limit for tuition fee grants or other grants. There’s no upper age limit for a bursary either, but depending on your age you can get either a Young Students’ Bursary or Independent Students’ Bursary. However, to apply for a loan for living costs you must either be under 50 years old when your course starts, or aged between 50 and 54 when your course starts and plan to return to employment after completing the course.

Is my course eligible for funding?

In order to receive government support, the course you take (and the university or college at which you take it) must be in the UK and designated as eligible for funding. Here’s a list of officially recognised higher education institutions. However, students resident in Northern Ireland and Scotland can also get funding to attend courses in the Republic of Ireland.

For all students, your course must lead to a recognised higher education qualification. Most support is available if you’re taking an undergraduate or equivalent level course, eg one of the following:

  • degree (eg BA, BSc, BEd)
  • foundation degree (this isn’t the same as a foundation course – see below)
  • Certificate of Higher Education
  • Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)
  • Higher National Certificate (HNC)
  • Higher National Diploma (HND)
  • initial teacher training (ITT)
  • a course to prepare for professional examinations higher than A level, HNC or HND

Most funding is for your first UK higher education qualification (eg your first degree), but even if you already have a higher education qualification, you may still get funding for some further study (eg for ITT, medicine and dentistry qualifications).

England, Wales and Northern Ireland: for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland the standard package of undergraduate support is also available for one postgraduate qualification: Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE).

Scotland: for students from Scotland, the standard package of undergraduate support is also available for the following postgraduate qualifications:

  • Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE)
  • Maths Tripos (Part III) at Cambridge University
  • some postgraduate architecture diplomas (for more detail, see architecture courses)

Also, different postgraduate support is available in Scotland for many other courses. For more information, see Postgraduate students - courses we do and do not support.

I need to take a foundation course before I start my degree – can I get funding for it?

Some courses, particularly art and design degrees, require you to take a foundation course (usually a year long) before you start. This isn’t the same as a foundation degree, and foundation courses aren’t usually eligible for higher education funding from Student Finance England, Wales or NI. However, you may be able to get further education funding instead – for more information, see Funding for further education overview.

If you’re from Scotland you may be able to get funding from SAAS if you enrol for the whole course and not just the foundation year, and the university or college treats the foundation year as a necessary part of the degree course.

I started or completed a higher education course before – how does that affect my funding?

If you started a higher education course but didn’t finish it, or you completed a course and now want to take another one, the government funding you’re entitled to may be restricted. See the answers to these questions for more information:

Where can I find out more about eligibility for funding?

To find more details about whether you’re eligible for government funding, take a look at the information provided by each student finance body:

If you’re funded by the NHS, the same general eligibility rules apply, but there may be some differences. For more information, see the NHS eligibility information.

What government funding can I get?

If you’re eligible for higher education funding from the government, find out what funding is available to you:

Where else can I get funding?

As well as government funding, you may be able to get support from your academic institution, charities or other sources. To find out more, see Can I get higher education funding from my university or college? and other sources of funding.

This information was updated in March 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.