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Tuition fees and student finance in England explained

Struggling to understand student finance in England? Get to grips with tuition fees, maintenance loans and how repayments work.

In this article
How much are tuition fees in England? What student finance can you get in England? What are tuition fee loans in England? What are maintenance loans in England?
What extra financial support is available in England? How do I apply for student finance in England? How do student loan repayments work?

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

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

How much are tuition fees in England?

Students in England will pay a maximum of £9,250 per year in tuition fees to study in the UK.

However, this only applies to those publicly funded institutions with a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) award. Those who don’t hold a TEF award can only charge a maximum of £9,000.

What student finance can you get in England?

You'll be eligible for student finance, provided you meet the following conditions:

  • You're a UK national (or have 'settled status), normally live in England and have been living in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man for the three years prior to your course start date;
  • You're applying to a recognised university or college degree course;
  • Your course is based in the UK, and is a first degree (eg BA, BSc or BEd) or one of those outlined on the GOV.UK website.
  • You’re under the age of 60 years old on the first day of your course.

Normally you can apply for a loan to cover your tuition fees for the duration of your first undergraduate degree course, plus one extra year (eg if you drop out and return to study).

Student finance in England boils down to two types of student loan, plus some extra support if you have dependants or a disability.

What are tuition fee loans in England?

You don’t need to find the money to pay your tuition fees upfront. You can apply for a tuition fee loan to cover these in full, and you'll only begin paying this back once you’ve graduated and you're earning over a certain amount. 

These go straight to your university, so you'll never see the money and you don't really need to worry about them too much.

While it might seem like a lot of money now, don’t get too preoccupied with a course’s price-tag when making your university decision – 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.

What are maintenance loans in England?

This part of your student loan is designed to cover your living costs eg accommodation, food, bills, getting around etc. Like your tuition fee loan, you’ll only start repaying this once you're earning above a certain amount per year after graduating. 

How much you’ll get in maintenance support will depend on where you'll live and study, as well as your household income; the less this is, the more in maintenance loan you're entitled to.

For example, if your annual household income is £25,000 or less and you're living away from home outside London, the maximum amount you’d be eligible to receive would be £8,944.

This is slightly more for those living in London (£11,672) to account for the higher cost of living. This works on a sliding scale depending on your household income.

You’ll receive an instalment of whatever maintenance support you’re entitled to, at the start of each term.

What extra financial support is available in England?

If you’re a full-time higher education student and you have children or adults who depend on you for care and/or financial support, there are grants and allowances available to help you while you study. 

Unlike the loans above, these don’t have to be paid back.


Childcare Grant


To help with childcare costs for full-time students. These are worth either 85% of your childcare costs or a fixed amount (up to £169.31 per week if you have one child, up to £290.27 per week if you have two or more), whichever is less. 


Parents’ Learning Allowance


To help with learning costs (eg books, transport) if you’re a full-time student with children. This is worth between £50 and £1,176 per year. This depends on household income. It won't affect your benefits or tax credit either. 


Adult Dependants’ Grant


If you have an adult who depends on you financially, you can apply for this grant worth up to £3,007. 


Child Tax Credit


Note, this is being gradually replaced by Universal Credit. Making a new claim for Child Tax Credit is only possible in certain circumstances, while the maximum amount you can get depends on when your child/children were born.

Visit the Gov.uk website and use their calculator to work out what you can get.


Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs)


DSAs are available if you have a disability that meets the Equality Act 2010’s definition, such as a long-term health or mental health condition or learning difficulty. For instance, if you incur extra travel costs as a result of your disability, a DSA can help with these.

How much you can get will depend on your disability and individual needs. You’ll need to undergo a needs assessment to help you figure out what equipment and support you’ll need.

As a rough guide, full-time students who requires specialist equipment can get an allowance of up to £5,684 (to cover their whole course); up to £22,603 per year for a non-medical helper allowance; and a general allowance of up to £1,899 per year.

DSAs are either paid directly to you or the provider of the service or equipment you require.


Hardship Funds


Hardship Funds are available if you run into financial difficulties while at university, particularly if you have special circumstances that mean you receive one of the allowances or grants above. 

You can apply directly to your university or college for whatever assistance they offer. How much you can receive will vary from one institution to the next as this is not government-funded.

This should be a last resort once you've tried all other sources of funding or financial help. You'll probably need to provide evidence of your outgoings (eg bank statements).


Scholarships and bursaries


It’s also worth looking into extra (non-repayable) funding like scholarships or bursaries that your university offers. Companies, organisations charities and special interest groups provide these too. What’s available, the eligibility criteria and the application process to get this will vary from provider to provider.

They can sometimes lead to further opportunities eg work experience or internship schemes if you receive a scholarship from an employer in your field.

Whether it’s a one-off payment to help with your living costs or a full scholarship that covers your tuition fees, it doesn’t hurt to do your research.

Learn more in our guide to scholarships and bursaries.

How do I apply for student finance in England?

You can apply for student finance, via the Student Finance England website

Based on previous years, we recommend getting your student finance confirmed by the end of May, to ensure you receive your first instalment in time for the start of term. You can apply after this date, but it's not guaranteed that you'll receive the funds in time for September.

You can apply for student finance up to nine months after the beginning of your course (but if you do wait, you'll need to cover your own fees and costs in the meantime).

Remember, you need to apply for student finance each year of your course – not just for your first year. This way, if your circumstances change, your student finance entitlement will accurately reflect this.

Check out our complete guide to student loans and finance.

How do student loan repayments work?

Note, the information below on repayments refers to those who fall under Plan 2 (English and Welsh students who started studying after 1 September 2012).

You'll only start paying back your student loan once you’re earning above the annual threshold of £25,725. If your salary drops below this threshold at any point, your loan repayments will stop until you're above this again.

Plus, you'll only pay back 9% of what you earn above this threshold. This means it doesn't matter how much you borrowed, but rather how much you're earning.

Here's a quick idea of what you'll repay depending on what you're earning:

To calculate exactly how much you'll pay back monthly:

  • take your annual salary (before tax)
  • minus the repayment threshold from that
  • calculate 9% of what's left
  • divide by 12 to see how much you'll pay back roughly per month.

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 you were earning below the repayment threshold). 

The Institute of Fiscal Studies have estimated that only about 17% of students will repay their student debt in full.

While repayments only kick in once you’re earning over that minimum threshold, you’ll be charged interest from the day you receive your first student loan. The interest rate you’re charged is linked to the Retail Price Index (RPI) at the time – this changes each year, so keep an eye on it.

While studying until the April after you leave your course, the interest rate will be RPI plus 3%. After this, interest will vary on a sliding scale depending on what you’re earning:



Now you know more about how student finance works in England, use our quick calculator to get a rough idea of what your living costs will look like and compare different universities.

Learn more about student finance and budgeting at university.