Note, the below refers to Northern Irish students studying a full-time degree in Northern Ireland based on what we know for new students beginning in the 2019/20 academic year (unless otherwise stated).
How much are tuition fees in Northern Ireland?
If you're from Northern Ireland, the most you’ll pay in tuition fees to study at a university in your home country, is £4,160 per year. If you’re from England, Wales or Scotland and studying in Northern Ireland, this goes up to £9,250 (though it could be less).
Also, students from Northern Ireland studying in the Republic of Ireland may be required to pay a Student Contribution Charge. You can apply for a Student Contribution Loan to cover this (but this has to be repaid).
The exact amount you'll be charged in tuition fees will vary from university to university, and depend on the course too – it could be less than this.
What student finance can you get in Northern Ireland?
You can apply to Student Finance Northern Ireland for student finance, specifically a Tuition Fee Loan plus a Maintenance Loan and one of two grants.
There’s some basic eligibility criteria to satisfy, namely:
- You're a UK national (or have 'settled status), normally live in Northern Ireland, and have been living in Northern Ireland for the three years prior to your course start date;
- You're applying to a recognised publicly-funded university or college in the UK or a privately-funded institution offering a course approved for public funding;
- Your course will result in a recognised Higher Education qualification eg a degree, foundation degree, Higher National Diploma or one of those listed here on the Student Finance Northern Ireland site. If you’ve studied previously or hold a degree already, this may limit the funding you can get.
- (For the Maintenance Loan) you’re under the age of 60 years old on the first day of your course.
Tuition Fee Loan
As you can guess, this covers your tuition fees upfront. The Tuition Fee Loan is not based on your household income and is paid directly to your university or college – so you can push it to the back of your mind until you graduate and need to repay it.
Maintenance support for living costs
Students from Northern Ireland studying in their home country have access to a Maintenance Loan and either a Maintenance Grant or a Special Support Grant, to help cover these.
Grants don't have to be paid back, unless you leave your course early or something changes dramatically in your household income and you're re-assessed (in which case you might have to repay some of the grant). However, loans have to be repaid.
The maximum amount you can receive will depend on where you will be living during term-time, as well as your household income.
Below is a rough guide to how much you could receive:
Note that you'll receive slightly less in your final year.
Like the Tuition Fee Loan, you only begin repaying this Maintenance Loan once you're earning above a certain amount. You’ll be charged interest on whatever you borrow too.
Maintenance Grant and Special Support Grant
On top of your Maintenance Loan, you may also be eligible for a Maintenance Grant or Special Support Grant – you can’t get both.
Neither have to be paid back, though.
The relationship between these can be a little complicated. In a nutshell, the Maintenance Grant can affect the amount of Maintenance Loan you get, but the Special Support Grant doesn’t.
Extra help, such as grants for disability or dependents, would be considered separate from these and won’t affect what else you can get.
This is based on your household income. If this is below £41,065, you’ll be eligible to receive something, whether the full or partial grant:
- household income is £19,203 or less – full grant of £3,475
- household income is between £19,204 and £41,065 – partial grant depending on income.
This can reduce the amount of Maintenance Loan you receive.
Special Support Grant
You may qualify for a Special Support Grant if you meet one of the circumstances outlined by Student Finance NI. This includes being a lone parent of someone under 20 years old in full-time education (below higher education) or where your partner is also studying and responsible for someone like this.
How much you receive is based on the same household income criteria as the Maintenance Grant, with the same maximum amount of £3,475 available.
Getting the Special Support Grant will have no bearing on your Maintenance Loan – you can get both.
You’ll receive whatever maintenance support you’re deemed eligible for, at the start of each term. You must apply for this each year of your course, not just in your first year.
Extra funding in Northern Ireland
As well as any bursaries and scholarships that your university provides – plus those offered by relevant organisations, companies, charities and groups –, it’s well worth exploring extra funding available for students in particular circumstances.
These are the key ones, none of which have to be repaid. Apart from the Disabled Students’ Allowance, you may have to provide information about your household income (and in the case of the Childcare Grant, initially estimate your costs before confirming these later):
Disabled Students' Allowance (DSAs)
Extra help is available for additional costs you may incur while studying because of a disability or learning difficulty. You’ll be assessed on your individual needs to ensure you get the support you need, before you begin your course.
You can claim for everyday expenses up to £1,759 per year under the General Allowance; up to £5,266 under the Specialist Equipment Allowance (eg computer hardware, recording devices); and up to £20,938 per year under the Non-Medical Personal Allowance (eg interpreters).
There’s no upper limit you can claim for, for reasonable travel expenses relating to your condition.
Parents’ Learning Allowance
If you have children, you can claim between £50-£1,538 for everyday costs. This won't affect any benefits or tax credits you get.
If you require childcare while studying, you can claim up to £148.75 per week for one child - this goes up to £255.00 per week for two or more children. Children must be under 15 years old (or 17 years old if they have special educational needs).
Adult Dependants’ Grant
If you’re responsible or a carer for another adult, you can claim for an income-assessed grant of up to £2,695 per year towards everyday costs. Note, this will affect any income-related benefits and tax credits you receive.
Learn more about these extra sources of funding on the Student Finance Northern Ireland website.
How do I apply for student finance in Northern Ireland?
Northern Irish students can apply for student finance via the NI Student Finance website.
It’s recommended that you apply by the end of May to guarantee your finance arrives in time for the start of your course (though you can apply up to nine months after your course begins).
How do student loan repayments in Northern Ireland work?
Repayments for student loans in Northern Ireland work the same way as they do in Scotland, as both are Plan 1 student loans.
One key difference is that student loans in Northern Ireland are written off after 25 years, even if you didn't pay anything during some or all of that time (ie because you weren't earning above the repayment threshold).
Now you know the difference between the Maintenance Grant and Special Support Grant, plus what you’ll pay in tuition fees, learn more about budgeting at university and making your cash stretch far enough.
Our student budget calculator can help break down all of those key expenses and costs you’ll need to think about, including giving you a rough monthly figure to budget towards.