Student Loans

Tuition fees and student loans have become a highly politicised issue in recent years; the final result was a curious youtube video of an apologetic deputy PM vainly attempting to explain his party’s policy u-turn. For the prospective student, this means that universities, in England at least, can now charge 9,000 pounds a year in tuition fees, if they meet certain conditions regarding students from poorer backgrounds.

These changes might seem, for the prospective university candidate, spectacularly unfair and off-putting – after all tuition fees have undergone a threefold increase. There are some mitigating factors particularly for those from poorer backgrounds, and there are student loans available to cover even the maximum tuition fee.

What do I need a student loan for?

Student loans are available to cover two things: the cost of living away at university, and the cost of tuition fees.

Tuition fees vary from university to university and even from course to course within a particular university. To be sure of the amount, check the course listing on the university’s website or just give the admissions office a ring. You will need to know this information when you apply to finance from SFE (Student Finance England); get it wrong and your university will receive the wrong amount, creating a difficult and entirely avoidable situation

Maintenance grants are only available to students on the basis of an assessment of household income – i.e. how much your parents make. If your household income is £25,000 a year or less then you will be eligible for the full grant of £3,354 per year of study. For household incomes that fall between £25,001 and £42,6111 a partial grant may be available.

A maintenance loan is available for any full-time student eligible for student finance. The amounts vary, taking into account the higher costs of living associated with living in London. For the student who chooses not to live with parents, a maximum of £7,675 is available. Outside of London, again choosing not to live with parents, the maximum available to a student decreases to £5,500. For those living with parents a maximum of £4,375 is available no matter where you are located. Finally, if you are planning to study abroad for at least one academic term you can get up to £6,535.

Regional differences

Northern Irish students pay tuition fees of up to £3,575. Wales has adopted a similar tuition fee model to England – with fees of up to £9,000. But fees can be paid for with loans and a grant, the latter is available to all students and can make up £5,245 of the total fee (the grant is proportional to the fee; a smaller fee will mean a small available grant) – this applies no matter where you study in the U.K. You don’t need to worry about tuition fees as a Scottish student – there aren’t any!

How to apply

For students in England, the SFE website is your one-stop-shop for student finance. From here you can apply for tuition fee loans and maintenance loans and grants. You also can apply before you actually have an unconditional offer: the deadline for this year is 31 May 2013.

You will need a few bits of information: your parent’s National Insurance number for one and details of their financial status. Once you’ve applied the SFE may request additional information from you – make sure to send photocopies, not the original documents.

Repayments

Repayments are where the new system of student loans begins to seem fairer. Essentially, you will be paying less for longer than students from before the introduction of higher fees. The threshold has been raised – you have to be earning over 21,000 before you must starting repaying. It’s a very a low rate: 9% of everything you earn above £21,000 of pre-tax salary. For example, taking an annual pre-tax salary of £22,000 you would have to repay just £90 that year. Not much! Of course, in this system, the more you earn the more pay.

Don’t be put off by the big numbers, the repayment system is progressive and a lot of support is available for students from poorer backgrounds.