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Quick guide to fees and finance if you’re studying in England

Student finance can feel like a bit of a minefield, so it’s important you get all the facts to help you make your decision

 If you’re looking to study full-time in England, this will give you a good outline of what you need to know to get started.

We are mainly focusing on full-time students who live in England here, but where there’s an important difference for other UK students, we’ve mentioned it. See our guides on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland finance for more.

1. Tuition fees trivia

About a third of universities and colleges offering higher education courses in England plan to charge £9,000 in tuition fees for their courses as standard, the maximum amount they can charge students per year in 2013/14. Other universities and colleges may charge this amount for a small number of their courses with lower fees for the rest.

You don’t need to find the money to pay your fees upfront – a loan covers the fees, and you’ll only repay it when you’re earning.

Don’t just look at the price-tag when choosing courses – find the course that’s right for you. Because of the way you’ll repay your loan, a course with lower tuition fees doesn’t always work out cheaper.

2. Student loan info

Tuition fee loan: this part of the loan is designed to cover your fee costs, funnily enough. You can borrow up to £9,000 a year (or however much your fees are). Note that if you're applying to a private institution, you can apply for a tuition fee loan of up to £6,000 a year, but this might not cover your fees in full.

Maintenance loan: this part is designed to cover the cost of accommodation and living costs. You can borrow up to £5,500 a year if you’re living away from home (more if you’re in London, less if you’re at home). The exact amount depends on your household income.

You’ll apply for both student loans in one go, via the  Student Finance England (SFE), which is part of the Student Loans Company (SLC).

If you are on an NHS-funded course, your support will be different. Visit the NHS Student Bursaries website  to find out more about the funding you may be entitled to and how you can apply for it.

3. Free money is out there to help

Maintenance grant:  if your household income is below £42,600 a year, a maintenance grant worth up to £3,354 could also be yours – with more potentially up for grabs for students coming from Scotland and Wales. This is awarded through SFE as part of your student loan assessment. The amount you’re awarded will be used to reduce the loan you take out by 50p for every pound of grant you receive.

Special support grant: if you are able to receive certain means-tested benefits you can apply for this grant - if you’re a lone parent, for example. Unlike the maintenance grant, receiving this won’t affect how much extra you’re able to borrow in student loans.

Bursaries and scholarships: extra money you never need to pay back is also on offer directly from universities and colleges. These are awarded for lots of different reasons – from personal circumstances to academic achievement. Our guide to bursaries, fee waivers, grants and scholarships will help you find which ones are available and the all important question – how much cash could you get..?

4. Repaying the debt

You could come out of a three-year university course with up to £50,025 (plus interest) to pay back in student loans, although most will have a lower level of debt.

The current interest rate for new students studying in England stands at 6.6% (that’s the current interest rate of 3.6% as of March 2012 + 3%). Interest rates are set for one year and will increase each year alongside the rate of inflation.

You’ll only ever have to pay any of it back once you’re earning more than £21,000 a year:

  • earning below £21,000? You won’t have to pay back anything
  • earning £24,000? You’ll repay £270 per year, £22.50 per month or £5.19 per week
  • earning £30,000? You’ll repay £810 per year, £67.50 per month or £15.58 per week.

After 30 years, any outstanding debt you still owe will be written off, even if you didn’t pay anything during some of that time (because you weren’t working or earning below £21,000).

A major review into university funding in 2010 estimated that around 60% of graduates won’t have paid their full loan back after 30 years. So either you’ll be lucky enough to be in the top group of graduate earners for the full term, or you’ll never repay it all.

5. You can work out your budget with these nifty tools

For a personalised look at how much you’ll need to borrow, and how to calculate your day-to-day costs, we really like: Brightside’s budgeting calculator 

MoneySavingExpert’s  finance calculator 2013 

If you need more, print off this handy student finance guide from the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance for a more in-depth look into student debt 


  • Date published: 09th October 2013
  • Written by: By Marie Kemplay (Researcher, Which? Money)