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I want to study outside the UK – what higher education funding can I get?

By David Malcolm

Friday 15 March 2013 Higher education

Here’s some advice about funding if you’re from the UK and want to study for a higher education qualification outside the UK.

What funding can I get to take an entire course outside the UK?

In most cases you can’t get any funding from the UK government to take your entire course at a college or university outside the UK. The exception is if you’re a student resident in Northern Ireland or Scotland – you can also get funding from the government to study at a publicly funded university or college in the Republic of Ireland (see What higher education funding is available in Northern Ireland? and What higher education funding is available in Scotland?).

Also, if you get your funding in Scotland and you want to take a postgraduate course abroad, the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) funds some courses outside the UK. See Studying a course outside the UK for more information.

Most students who can’t get government funding to take an entire course at a college or university outside the UK fund themselves. However, you may be able to get funding from other sources, and the costs of studying and living abroad may be less than in the UK.

For example, a big cost in the UK is tuition fees, but many European countries offer free or cheap undergraduate education to UK students. Check out the university or college you’re interested in, though, because tuition fees vary enormously. Find out if you have to pay the advertised price, or whether any scholarships, bursaries or fee-waivers are available.

Scholarships may also be available from your chosen country’s government – ask at their embassy, consulate or education office for more information. There will probably be a lot of competition for any scholarships, so apply well in advance. And while you’re investigating local government support, see whether you’re entitled to any student grants, loans or benefits (eg housing benefits, travel concessions or grants towards the costs of study).

Don’t assume that you’ll be able to fund your studies by working during your course. Check whether and to what extent you’re permitted to work in the country on a student visa. It may be a condition of entry that you can demonstrate your ability to support yourself (and any dependants) from your own resources.

In the UK you may be able to get support from non-government bodies to study abroad – mainly at postgraduate level. These scholarships or grants may only cover a small proportion of your costs. For example:

  • Support for students studying overseas from UK educational trusts and charities (see the directories of educational grant-making bodies at your local library or careers service).
  • Grants for postgraduate study overseas from UK research councils and professional bodies.
  • Scholarships (mainly at postgraduate level) for study in selected Commonwealth countries from the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships Plan.
  • Scholarships (mainly at postgraduate level) for study in the USA from the Fulbright awards scheme.
  • Scholarships (mainly at postgraduate level) for doctoral study in the EU from the Marie Curie scheme.

For more help and information, see the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), The Student World and Prospects.

What funding can I get to work or study abroad as part of a UK course?

If you’re taking a higher education course at a UK university or college you may be able to spend some time working or studying abroad as part of the course – anything from a couple of weeks to a whole year.

You still get funding from the UK government for the time you spend abroad, and if you go abroad on an exchange (including Erasmus) you don't pay fees at the host institution. Also, the fees you pay to your home institution may be reduced or waived while you study or work abroad (eg from September 2013 students at English universities pay a maximum of 15 per cent of the tuition fees). Check with your institution to find out what fees apply to you.

Here are some of the main ways to work or study abroad during your course:

  • Study or work abroad for three to 12 months as part of the ERASMUS programme.
  • Exchange places with another student at a foreign institution (many UK universities have established links with institutions abroad).
  • Work in schools abroad for a year as a language assistant (usually for students of foreign languages).
  • Work on a vacation placement for eight to 12 weeks between June and September as part of the IAESTE scheme (for students of science, technology and engineering).
  • Work in a paid or volunteer placement with AIESEC (also available to recent graduates).
  • Study at a summer school (eg the UK government funded Study China Programme).

Speak to an advisor at the international or study abroad office at your home university or college to find out what opportunities are available to you.

For more help and information, see the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), who also has a list of contacts for further information.

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.