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Tuition fees and student finance in Scotland explained

If you’re a Scottish student, it might pay off to stay in your home country for university. Learn how student finance works in Scotland including help with living costs. 

In this article
How much are tuition fees in Scotland? Financial support for living costs in Scotland What is the maintenance loan in Scotland? What is the Young Students’ Bursary in Scotland?
What extra funding can I get in Scotland? How do I apply for student finance in Scotland?   How do student loan repayments work in Scotland? About our research

Note, the below refers to Scottish students studying a full-time degree course in Scotland based on what we know for new students beginning in the 2019/20 academic year (unless otherwise stated).

If you’re not from Scotland, check our student finance guides for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How much are tuition fees in Scotland?

If you’re a Scottish student and you study at a Scottish university, the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) will pay for your tuition fees in full – the standard annual fee for a degree is £1,820. 

You don’t have to pay this back either, unlike students who take out a tuition fee loan in England, Wales etc.

To qualify for your tuition fees to be paid by the SAAS, you have to meet some basic conditions:

  • Be an ordinary resident in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man for the three years prior to the first day of your course;
  • Be an ordinary resident in Scotland on the first day of your course;
  • Be studying your first degree.

Usually you'll be covered for the duration of your degree course, plus one extra year should you need it (eg you take a year out and then return to your course).

Before you sit back and bask in the thought of a tuition fee-free degree, there are a couple more things to remember. Degree courses last four years in Scotland, not three like elsewhere in the UK.

Therefore, you’ll need to think about covering an extra year of living costs, than you would if you studied in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

You must also apply for student finance from the SAAS each year of your course, not just once before you begin.

While a fee-free degree is a great incentive to stay in Scotland for university, don’t be swayed by price tag alone – choose the university and course that’s right for you. 

If you do study further afield in England, Northern Ireland or Wales, you could be looking at up to £9,250 a year in tuition fees. However, there are loans and grants available to cover these upfront, which you repay later. 

Financial support for living costs in Scotland

There are two main types of student in Scotland, a ‘young student’ and an ‘independent student’. 

The SAAS will define you as a young student if:

  • you're under 25 years old before the start of the academic year you’re being assessed for;
  • you do not have a child of any age dependent on you, at the start of the academic year they’re assessing you for;
  • you have not supported yourself from earnings or benefits outside full-time education for any three years before the first day of the first academic year of your course;
  • you’re not married, in a civil partnership or living with a partner before the first day of the first academic year of your course – this will be reviewed if your circumstances change during your course.

If you don’t meet all of these requirements, you will probably fall under the status of an independent student. 

What is the maintenance loan in Scotland?

Young students can apply for a maintenance loan which is means-tested, based on your household and circumstances.

The maximum you can receive is £5,750 and the minimum is £4,750. This must be repaid.

What is the Young Students’ Bursary in Scotland?

You can supplement this with a Young Students’ Bursary, which doesn't have to be repaid.

You can receive up to £2,000 if your annual household income is under £20,999 with the amount slowly reducing as that income reaches £34,000 a year.

Maintenance support for independent students varies slightly. As well as a maintenance loan, they can apply for an Independent Students' Bursary – again this doesn’t have to be paid back:

What extra funding can I get in Scotland?

The loans and bursaries we talk about above shouldn't interfere with any extra funding you may apply for, namely bursaries or scholarships to help with tuition fees or living costs (partially or in full).

These can be offered by your university, as well as companies, organisations or charities, for lots of different reasons – some might surprise you.

In fact, 36% of Scottish students we surveyed said that they successfully applied for a bursary or scholarship from their university or an organisation – this was slightly higher than in England (25%)*.

Plus, they don't have to be repaid!

Your university or college may also hold special discretionary funds to help you if you run into financial problems while studying.

These will vary from institution to institution, so you’ll need to speak to yours to explain your situation – usually this is treated as a last resort having taken out the maximum loan available to you – and see what they can offer you.

Learn more in our complete guide to scholarships and bursaries.

There’s also further support available for students depending on personal circumstances, such as if you have children or a disability.


Disabled Students' Allowance:


Extra help is available if you incur additional costs while you study because of a disability or learning difficulty. You’ll be assessed on your individual needs to ensure you get the support you need.

You can claim up to £1,725 per year for basic allowance items (eg photocopying, Braille or Livescribe paper, USB memory sticks); up to £5,160 for large items (eg disability-related software, laptops, ergonomic equipment) to cover the duration of your course; and up to £20,520 per year for non-medical personal help (eg British Sign Language interpreters, mobility support).

You can also claim reasonable travel expenses.


Care Experienced students


If you’ve been in the care of a UK Local Authority and you’re under 26 years old at the start of your course, you can apply for a bursary of £8,100 (however, you won’t be eligible for a student loan).

A Care Experienced Accommodation Grant of up to £105 per week to help with summer accommodation costs is also available should you need it. 


Lone Parents’ Grant: 


If you’re raising a child on your own (ie you’re single, widowed, divorced, separated or your civil partnership has dissolved), you can claim for an income-assessed grant of up to £1,305 per year.


Dependants’ Grant


If you’re responsible or a carer for another adult, you can claim for an income-assessed grant of up to £2,640 per year.


Nursing and Midwifery Student Bursary


Eligible students can apply to receive up to £8,100 per year (this reduces to 75% in fourth year), plus further various allowances and expenses to go towards travel, accommodation, childcare and more. 

How do I apply for student finance in Scotland?  

You can apply for student finance online via the Student Awards Agency Scotland website.

Remember that you have to do this each year of your course, not just the first year. This applies to Scottish students studying in Scotland who want their tuition fees covered by the SAAS.

 In 2019, the SAAS recommended that students get their application into them by 30 June, to guarantee they’d receive their full funding in time for the start of term.

How do student loan repayments work in Scotland?

If you’re a Scottish student, you won’t begin repaying any student loans – nor the interest on top, which kicks in from the moment you receive your first loan instalment – until the April after you graduate, and only once you’re earning more than £18,935 per year (according to Plan 1 student loans). 

Plus, you’ll repay 9% of whatever you earn annually above this amount. 

Repayment example:

So if you graduate and get a job with an annual salary of £20,000, you’ll repay the following:

  • Minus the minimum repayment threshold from your salary: £20,000 - £18,935 (threshold) = £1,065
  • Calculate 9% of this to get what you’ll repay annually (and divide by 12 to get the monthly repayment figure)
  • £1,670 / 100 x 9 = £95.85 repaid annually
  • £150.30 / 12 = £7.99 repaid monthly

If your annual salary drops below this threshold at any point, your repayments will cease until you're earning above this again.

Repayments will be taken from your pay by your employer, alongside tax and National Insurance, to make things simple.

Interest accumulates at either Bank of England's base rate + 1% or the UK Retail Price Index (RPI), whichever is lowest.

Currently, the interest rate is 1.75%. That's because the base rate is just 0.75%, while RPI sits at 2.4%. 

After 30 years, any outstanding debt you still owe will be written off, even if you didn’t pay anything during that time.

Learn more about repaying your student loan.


Now you know the difference between a young student and an independent student through the eyes of the SAAS – plus the big benefit of sticking around in Scotland for university – learn more about student finance and money at university

How much will you need to survive on at university (especially if you study in Scotland for four years, instead of three)? Use our free calculator tool to get a rough monthly figure, in seconds.

About our research

* Which? University Student Survey, conducted by YouthSight on behalf of Which?, surveying 3,874 undergraduate students at UK universities between 20 March and 12 April 2019.