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All the different types of student loans, grants and bursaries explained

From tuition fees to maintenance payments, we explain all the different types of student finance on offer and who can access them.

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Do you homework with our guide to all the different types of student loans, grants and bursaries.
Our guide explains all the financing options on offer, who can access them and how much you might get.

Anyone heading off to university or college will need to think about ways to fund their further education. Between tuition fees, maintenance loans, bursaries, grants and even postgraduate loans there’s a lot of options to navigate.

To make life simpler, we’ve rounded up all the financing options on offer, who can access them and how much you might get.

Tuition fee loans

Most universities in the UK now charge tuition fees. The exact amount you’ll have to pay varies by country and also by where you come from. For instance, Scottish people studying in Scotland get their tuition fees covered, but English, Welsh and Irish people studying there still have to pay.

The rates are set by the universities or colleges themselves – up to a government cap. The most you should end up paying is £9,250 per year. 

The costs are covered by a tuition fee loan, which is paid directly to the university. You then have to pay it back once you are earning above a certain threshold. You’ll pay 9% of earnings over that amount until the debt is wiped – typically around 30 years after you leave university.

Maintenance loans

These are loans that help cover your day-to-day living costs. You can spend them on what you want, but they’re designed to go towards things like accommodation, books, food etc. They’re normally means tested, although everyone gets something. 

The total amount you’ll get depends on how much the parent(s) you live with earn. It also accounts for your earnings if you have a job,. If your parent lives with a partner, their income counts too.

Usually, the amount you get won’t cover the full cost of living. That means you’ll need to supplement your income with contributions from your parents, part time jobs, bursaries and scholarships or other government help.

Maintenance grants and bursaries 

Unfortunately for UK students, council maintenance grants are a thing of the past, meaning that you usually have to get a loan to cover your living costs.

The good news for Scottish, Irish and Welsh students is that grants and bursaries are still available in your countries. Typically, these are means-tested and the lower your family’s income the more you’re entitled to. Check on your country specific student loans government website to see what’s available.

The sites are:

Extra government help 

If you’re struggling financially there may be other help available. According to the government website, the main options are:

Support for specific courses

There are also bursaries and grants available if you are studying for certain professions such as to work in social care or teach. The main government ones are:

Student finance calculator

The government has a really helpful student finance calculator, which tells you how much you can borrow in the form of student loans as well as extra government funding that may be available. You’ll need to know the household income, which is how much the parent(s) you live with earn, plus any partners if they are a full-time part of the household. If you’ve got a job, you’ll need to include that income too.

Hardship funds

Universities and colleges offer hardship funds. These could be available to anyone who is:

  • A student with children, especially single parents

  • A mature student with existing financial commitments

  • From a family that earns less than a certain threshold

  • Has a disability

  • A student who was previously in care

  • Living in a foyer or who doesn’t have a home

Contact the student services department at your university or college to see if you qualify.

Lots of charities also offer grants to people on lower incomes. Turn2Us has a brilliant calculator you can use here.

Bursaries or scholarships

It’s also worth seeing if there are any scholarships or bursaries available that you might be eligible to apply for. Again, check with your chosen university or college to see what’s on offer and the entry criteria. Scholarships are often competitive and can be linked to skills like music or sports, or academic prowess. Bursaries may be means-tested.

EU students coming to study in the UK

If you’re from the EU or Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland you may be able to apply for a tuition fee loan and help with maintenance costs.

If you’re starting a new course, you must have settled or pre-settled status to get student finance. You might also need to apply for a visa to study in the UK.

Loans for postgraduates

Post-graduates also get tuition fee and maintenance loans but the amounts are slightly different. 

  • Postgraduate Master’s Loan – up to £11,570.

  • Postgraduate Doctoral Loan – up to £27,265

Many post-graduates also apply for funding from societies, employers, academies and other institutions.

Find out more here.


If your parents are well-off or you have savings, you might be considering paying university fees directly, rather than getting a loan.

There’s a couple of things to consider here. The first is that even though student loans have interest attached, since most people never pay them off in full before they’re wiped, they effectively become interest-free.

That makes them an extremely cheap form of borrowing, so if the money is earning interest in savings or investments, you might be better off leaving it there and taking the loan.

Money Saving Expert calculates that a graduate who starts with a salary of £30,000 a year, who is earning £129,660 30 years later, will never repay the total loan, let alone any interest.

It says that a parent who paid tuition fees for a child that went on to earn the average graduate income would end up paying £30,000 more by paying up front than by taking the loan approach.

Even if your parents want to pay for university, it might be worth taking the loan anyway. Since most people never pay back the full amount, or any of the interest, it’s a very good way to get cheap finance. You could get the loan and put it into the highest interest savings account you can find for the entirety of your study period. 

That would give you a nice amount in the bank to put towards a home deposit or cover the cost of a gap year, once you’ve finished studying. As long as you’re not a super high earner who will have to pay back the loan interest, setting the money aside is more cost-effective than most forms of credit.

Alternatively, if you’re making more in interest than you’re being charged by the Student Loans Company, you could pay the loan back in full after university and keep any extra interest. However, this is unlikely as most savings accounts currently pay poor interest, while student loans start charging you interest at the retail price index rate + 3% from the moment you receive the cash. To make this approach work, you’d need to find a savings option that paid more than that.

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