Student Finance: What’s changed and what remains the same?

Funding your child at university is a hot topic with our clients at this time of year. Especially so this year due to the recent changes to student finance. Although most clients have carried out the basics of how they intend to fund university and made an application some while ago, many have yet to get to the ‘nitty gritty’ and assess how the recent changes to university fees will affect you and your child.  

How to plan for student fees

Welcome to the confusing world of student finance!

With maximum tuition fees at £9,250 per year, that’s without even starting to think about the cost of accommodation, food and supporting your little darling, university fees can seem an out of reach expense even for the most hard-working and reasonably well off.

Although most courses are 3 years long, some courses stretch out for many more years, and that’s not just medicine and dentistry! If you have a budding architect in the family you could be looking at about 6- 7 years of tuition fees and living expenses. 

How do I plan for student fees?

Forget spreadsheets estimating the total cost of university, this will only reduce you to tears! Just concentrate on the loans and assistance available to you. This will help you to understand the process of university funding more thoroughly.

There are always headlines about the spiraling cost of student debt but best not to dwell on those, or get confused with the total loan and the repayment. What matters in practical terms is how much you have to repay  – and that can be a completely separate number from the total amount of tuition fees, maintenance loan and interest.

Let’s look at the basics

The university funding ‘package’ is made up of two parts:

  1. Tuition fee loans
  2. Maintenance support

Broadly speaking your child should be eligible for both as long as they are studying an approved course at a registered university and haven’t previously started a degree or similar course.  Maintenance support is means tested, so may vary.

They’ll also need to be a UK citizen (or have ‘settled’ status) and have been living in the UK for at least 3 years before the course start date.

EU students can apply for the tuition fee loan but won’t usually qualify for any assistance towards living costs. Rules and amounts also vary; if you’re a part-time student, over 60, or claiming special circumstances such as refugee status.

Tuition fee loans

Those of you lucky enough to live in Scotland or Northern Ireland may not have to pay a tuition fee if your child studies in your home country. With such great universities in both, it does beg the question of why go somewhere else? The rest of us need to find £9,250 pa normally. Take a look at the chart below to see if you are in the minority with lower tuition fees.

Tuition fees by region for courses starting in 2023/24

Student's home region Studying in England Studying in Scotland Studying in Wales Studying in Northern Ireland
England Up to £9,250 Up to £9,250 Up to £9,000 Up to £9,250
Scotland Up to £9,250 No fee Up to £9,000 Up to £9,250
Wales Up to £9,250 Up to £9,250 Up to £9,000 Up to £9,250
N.Ireland Up to £9,250 Up to £9,250 Up to £9,000 Up to £4,395
EU and other International Variable Variable Variable Variable

* This will not apply to Irish nationals living in the UK and Ireland whose right to study and to access benefits and services will be preserved on a reciprocal basis for UK and Irish nationals under the Common Travel Area arrangement.

Source: UCAS: undergraduate tuition fees and students loans

Note: Tuition fee loans cover the full cost of the course and are paid directly to the course provider.

Maintenance support

So that’s the tuition covered! However, these students of ours have living expenses, and often this is where many parents get a bit confused and misunderstood.

The average student spends £924/month on accommodation, food, transport, textbooks, plus anything else you deem essential. This rises to £1089 if you are planning to study in London. This survey took place in 2022, so the actual figures will undoubtedly be higher. Do bear in mind local variations in costs occur.

Student Money Survey 2022 – Results – Save the Student

What is a maintenance loan?

Your child can apply for a maintenance loan payable directly to them, so they need to learn to budget carefully. When it’s gone, it’s gone! It’s paid termly in England and monthly in Scotland.

Your household income will determine the maintenance loan figure your child will receive. As you can see from the table below, once this exceeds £62,343, the maximum loan is £4,651 pa when away from home but outside of London. This loan is added to the tuition loan and repaid in the same manner as noted above.

The table shows the maximum figure you could apply for. However, you aren’t guaranteed to get this! We recommend you apply early so a ‘plan b’ can be put in place if unsuccessful.

Maintenance Loans in England 2023/24


What if you are from Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales

Scotland & Northern Ireland: Students get a mix of a loan & grant. The higher the family income, then more is a loan. Parental contribution is still needed.

The maximum financial support is £9,000.

Northern Ireland
The maximum financial support depends on where you live.
– If you live at home, you’ll get a maximum of £6,610
– If you live away from home, but outside of London, you’ll get a maximum of £8,136.
– If you live away from home, but in London, you’ll get a maximum of £10,852. 

You are a lucky parent if you live in Wales. There is no parental contribution needed or expected. Here family income dictates what proportion of the fixed funds received for living costs is a loan and what is a non-repayable grant but everyone gets the same total amount of support.

What if you are divorced, are both parents’ income still taken into account? 

The simple and relieving answer is no. Your child will select the parent they live with most of the time. If it is equal, they are allowed to elect one parent, so it would seem logical to choose the parent with the lowest income. Thus making more of the living costs affordable through the maintenance loan rather than parental contribution.

Finally, How are these loans repaid?

This depends on when you started your course. 

Course Started Repayment Maximum Term Interest How likely are you to repay in full?
Started course in 2022 9% above £22,295 30 years (from the April following graduation) RPI + up to 3% 23% are likely to repay in full (The state pay 44p in the £1)
Started course in 2023 9% above £25,000 40 years (from the April following graduation) Just RPI 52% are likely to repay in full (The state pay 19p in the £1)

As an employee, your ‘income’ is used to calculate how much you will repay isn’t the amount that hits your bank each month. They use the full ‘gross’ income, meaning before tax, national insurance, and any pension contributions are taken out.

N.B. As a rule, if you took out your student loan before September 2012 then your interest rate is lower. If you aren’t sure which loan type (1 or 2) you have, I suggest you go to this government page to see the definition of each.

If finding the university fees means drawing down from your personal pension, redirecting private school fees or ‘just’ finding the extra from your income, with some careful planning, and prudent advanced saving, university fees can be managed.

Do bursaries and hardships funds still exist?

The short answer is yes! However, bursaries are such complex areas that I could write a whole other article about them.

Universities and colleges may offer bursaries and hardship funds to support students who face financial difficulties during their studies. Bursaries are typically awarded based on various factors, including household income and academic achievement. Hardship funds, on the other hand, are emergency funds designed to help students who experience unexpected financial hardships during their course.

Student grants and bursaries

What about students with a disability?

When in higher education the definition of a disability includes a broader range of challenges than you might think. The term disability includes; those with a physical disability, medical condition, sensory impairment, mental health condition, or specific learning difficulty that affects your ability to study, such as Dyslexia.

If this applies to your child, you can apply for Disabled Students Allowances (DSA) on top of the usual student finance. This additional help is designed to cover the costs of any additional support you may need to enable you an equal ability to study at university. The level of financial support is based on your assessed need, NOT how much your parents earn and unlike other student finance does not need to be repaid.

It is advised you apply before confirming your choices, but even if you haven’t done this, it can take around 14 weeks for the application process to complete, so you still have time.

Full details and a guide to how to apply are on this helpful link Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) guide 2023 – Save the Student

and finally….

There are some excellent blogs out there. The money saving expert has one on the truth about uni loans, fees and grants – definitely, worth a read/watch

I also found an interesting article on9 weird university bursaries grants and scholarshipson SavetheStudent where students can be eligible for grants if they are a vegetarian through to your surname being “Graham”!

Whichever way you decide to fund your child’s university fees make sure you plan, take advice and look as far into the future as you can! Whatever you do, don’t stick your head in the sand and rely on a political change to solve the problem.

How will you fund your child’s university fees? Let us know by adding a comment below.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2019 and 2021 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness in 2023.

*** Student Finance
****The Money Saving Expert

2 thoughts on “Student Finance: What’s changed and what remains the same?

  1. Nick McDowall

    Thanks Kirsty for the very clear explanation. We’ll be applying for a student loan for our daughter to attend university in the autumn of next year.


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