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Advise me about...... Funding a course

Costs of studying vary enormously.There are many courses that are completely free and some courses that will cost several thousands of pounds each year. As well as tuition fees there are usually other costs associated with studying, for example exam fees, residential or field trip fees, books & other study materials and the cost of travel. Fortunately, help is available. This may include reduced fees for individuals who meet certain criteria, grants or bursaries that do not need to be paid back or loans to help you manage the costs.

The help you are entitled to will depend on your own personal circumstances and the type of course you are taking. Finding out about the costs and the financial support on offering advance of your application is important, particularly if you are receiving benefits. However, there is plenty of information online and most education providers have someone you can talk to.

Some of the main ways of funding a course are described below. Please note this information is based on courses taken in England, however links to information for other parts of the UK can be found in useful links below. You can also find out about course funding by using our online 'Advise Me' tool.

Government funded courses

Many courses in reading, writing and basic maths are free, and you may not have to pay for tuition if you’re under 24 and studying for your first qualification equivalent to GCSE or A level. Your education provider can advise on free courses you may be eligible for.

Free training for those on benefits

You can get free training if you’re unemployed and meet certain other criteria. Your Jobcentre work coach will tell you what training you can do.

Advanced Learner Loan and Bursary Fund (England institutions only)

You can apply for an Advanced Learning Loan to help with the fee costs of a course at a college or training provider if you’re 19 or older. The course must be an eligible Level 3, 4, 5 or 6 course. You’ll have to pay your loan back when you’ve finished your course once you earn more than £21,000 a year. Loan eligibility doesn’t depend on your income and there are no credit checks. You may also be eligible for money from the Advanced Learner Loans Bursary Fund if you need help with some costs while studying, e.g. childcare, travel or trips related to your course. You need to apply to your college or training provider directly for the Bursary Fund. You can apply as soon as you’ve received a letter confirming your Advanced Learner Loan.

Discretionary learner support for college and adult education learners

If you’re aged 19 or over, on a further education course and facing financial hardship, you could get Discretionary Learner Support (DLS). How much you get depends on your circumstances and the money can help pay for things like travel, course materials and equipment, and childcare. Your learning provider can advise on how to apply and whether you are eligible.

Loans and bursaries for Higher Education courses

There is a range of support offered to those undertaking a higher education course either at college or university. The support is to cover both tuition fees and other course costs. The support available varies depending whether your course is full or Part time and also on your own personal circumstances.

Part time HE courses

If you live in England or Wales you may be eligible for a Tuition Fee loan from Student Finance England – part of the Student Loans Company, which provides funding on behalf of the UK government. To get the funding, both you and your course must be eligible for it.

For part-time courses the ‘course intensity’ determines if you can get support. ‘Course intensity’ means the percentage of time that you’re studying compared to a student taking an equivalent full-time course. You need to study at a minimum (e.g. 30 credits of OU study) rate of at least 25% per cent of an equivalent full-time course in each academic year in order to get funding.

Funding is currently available for your first undergraduate or equivalent course only – if you already have a UK qualification at the same or a higher level, you’re not currently eligible. Students who already hold an Honours degree or higher level of qualification and start a part-time Honours degree exclusively in engineering, technology or computer science, will be exempt from the previous study rules. If the course is a joint Honours degree, then both subjects must be within these disciplines.

The loan isn’t based on income and is repayable once your course is complete and your earnings reach a certain amount (set at approx. £21,000 in March 2016).

Full time HE courses

Full time HE courses currently cost up to £9000 per year and in most instances you can get a tuition fee loan to cover this cost. Money is paid directly from the Student Loans Company to your provider and you have to pay this back after your course and once your earnings reach a certain level (set at approx. £21,000 in March 2016). Depending on your personal circumstances you may also be able to apply for a maintenance loan to help cover every day living costs whilst you study. You can currently receive up to £8,200 per year if your course is not based in London. Again this needs to be paid back.

There are different arrangements in place for students taking some vocational courses, for example those taking medicine, dentistry and other health professions are eligible for NHS support and additional funding is in place for teaching and social work.

There is also help for young people leaving care, carers with adult dependents, parents with childcare costs.

Many universities also offer bursaries, fee reductions or scholarships to students from their own funding. These do not need to be paid back and are often targeted to particular groups, for example those on low incomes. Individual providers will be able to tell you what you may be eligible for and details are usually advertised on their website.

Educational trusts

Charities and trusts make grants to individual students. The level of funding is usually relatively small (for example up to £500) and payments are normally one off and to cover specific items or costs. Funding is often restricted to

to specific groups of learners, e.g. those undertaking a particular course of study or from a particular background.

Professional and Career Development Loans

These are bank loans to pay for courses and training that help with your career or help get you into work. You may be able to borrow between £300 and £10,000. Loans are usually offered at a reduced interest rate and the government pays interest while you’re studying.

Payment by instalments

Most education providers will offer students the opportunity to pay fees in instalments, perhaps through a termly bill or a regular direct debit. Examination and registration fees usually need to be paid upfront. Individual providers will advise on their payment policy.

Employer support

If you are working and you have a course in mind you may want to talk to your employer about contributing to the cost, they may be willing to consider this if you can demonstrate that your studies will benefit the organisation.


There is a range of financial support for those with childcare costs. You can read more here.

Disability support

There is additional financial support for disabled learners to enable them to participate in their chosen programme. You can read more here.

Useful links

Information about government funding for further and adult education programmes, including details of Advanced Learner Loans, learner support funds, career and professional development loans and government funded courses. website

Information about government funding for higher education courses.
Student finance on website

Easy to understand information on student finance for full and part time HE students across the UK.
Students on MoneySavingExpert website

An interactive student finance 'quick start guide' by Student Finance England:

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