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I’m an international student and I want to study in the UK – what higher education funding can I get?

By David Malcolm

Friday 15 March 2013 Higher education

If you’re a student from outside the UK and you want to study for a higher education qualification at a UK university or college, you may be able to get funding from the UK government if you qualify as a ‘home student’. If not, there’s a range of funding options and help available to you.

This topic contains the following:

Can I get student funding from the UK government?

Student funding from the government in the UK is all about which country is your ordinary place of residence before you go off to study. To qualify as a ‘home student’ and apply for funding in the UK you must:

  • usually live in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland or have ‘settled status’ (no restrictions on how long you can stay)
  • have been living in the UK for three years before starting your course (trips abroad for 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.

So it’s not all about being a UK national. You may be able to apply for 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 (as a result of a failed application for asylum).

However, if you’ve been living in the UK for three years before starting your course, but you spent some of that time in full-time education, you may not be considered as a ‘home student’. And even if you are, if you’re an EU national (or family member of one) you may not get all the available funding (eg in England you only get help with your tuition fees), and other grants, discounts and benefits may not be available to you.

Each UK country has its own provider of government student finance, and you get your funding from the provider in the country in which you’re considered a resident. So if you’re a resident in England you can get funding from Student Finance England, but you aren’t eligible for the funding available to students resident in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

In short, the rules on residency are very complicated. If you’re unsure about your status you should contact Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales, Student Finance NI, the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS), 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.

What UK government funding is available?

Most UK government funding is only available for students taking undergraduate degrees (or equivalents), so even if you’re eligible for funding, the course you want to take might not be. However, some postgraduate funding (eg for teaching) is available. For more information, see:

What about other sources of funding?

You may be able to get some funding from the UK university or college at which you want to study. For more information, see Can I get higher education funding from my university or college?

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 UK 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.

If you’re taking a course at a university or other institution in your home country, you may be able to study in the UK as part of your course (eg as part of the ERASMUS programme). UKCISA has more information, and speak to your own institution about what’s available.

If you’re a postgraduate student, many UK organisations offer international student scholarships and awards. Education UK has lots of information about scholarships for international postgraduate students.

I’m a teacher from outside the UK – can I get funding to train for qualified teacher status in the UK?

If you qualified as a teacher outside the UK you can train for Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) while you work as a teacher, depending on where you’re working.

England: you can train while you work as a teacher in England as part of the Overseas Trained Teacher Programme (OTTP). You may be able to get funding to cover the training fees.

When you’ve found a teaching position in a school in England, the programme provides you with a training and assessment programme, which leads to your qualification to teach in England permanently. While you’re training you get a salary from your school, of at least the minimum on the unqualified teacher pay scale. Depending on your responsibilities, experience and location, your school may pay you more.

As well as this, you may be eligible to get funding from the Teaching Agency. A training grant contributes towards the cost of your training – it’s paid directly to your training provider. You may also get a salary grant, which is paid directly to your school to contribute to the cost of your salary. If your training is funded by the Teaching Agency, you don’t have to pay any training fees, or for your final assessment against the QTS standards.

There are only a limited number of these funded places and they’re very popular, but you should contact your employment-based initial teacher training (EBITT) provider to find out more.

If your provider doesn’t have any Teaching Agency funded places available, you may still be able to participate in an EBITT programme if your school or another sponsoring body is willing to cover the cost of your training and salary. Ask your school and EBITT provider whether this option is available. If not, you may be charged a training fee. This may be paid by you, your school, or a combination of the two. You should contact your EBITT provider for more information about any additional costs.

See the Department of Health’s Overseas Trained Teacher Programme details for more information.

If you qualified as a teacher in Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the USA you can get your QTS in England without undertaking any further training or assessment – see Information for teachers qualified in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.

Wales: you may be able to train for your QTS while you work as a teacher in Wales, as part of the Welsh Government’s Graduate Teacher Programme. For more information, see Overseas trained teachers and I want to be a teacher – what higher education funding is available?

How much does it cost to study and live in the UK?

The costs of study and living in the UK divide into tuition fees and living costs. All universities and colleges in the UK charge tuition fees for higher education courses, and the fees vary depending on the institution, whether you’re a ‘home student’ or not, and the level and type of course. Home students can pay up to £9,000 a year, and overseas fees range from £4,000 to £18,000 a year.

Education UK provides a summary of UK course fees for international students, and Universities UK publishes an annual survey of average tuition fees at UK universities to give you an idea. For details of fees for a course at a particular institution, check their website or prospectus. Always check what additional charges and costs aren’t included in the fee.

To get a sense of how much it might cost a home student to study and live in England for a year, see What are the costs of study and living?

The charity Brightside provides an online International Student Calculator to help you work out how to manage your money and build a budget for living and studying in the UK. You can also find links to more advice and 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.