UK university tuition fees explained


UK TUITION fees are frequently under the media spotlight, no more so than now as they’ve become a headline part of the current General Election campaign.

To loud cheers as the Labour Party manifesto was announced in front of students in Bradford University, Jeremy Corbyn announced that tuition fees would be scrapped under a future Labour government, although it was Tony Blair’s New Labour that first introduced them in September 1998.

But just how much does it cost to study at a UK university?

There are two levels of tuition fees at publicly funded UK universities: home student fees (including EU students) and international student fees. For home students, institutions in England can share up to a maximum of £9,250 per year for undergraduate degree programs, and in Wales up to £9,000. In Northern Ireland the limit is £3,925 for EU and Northern Irish students and up to £9,250 for students from the rest of the UK.

In Scotland an undergraduate degree is effectively free for students from Scotland and the EU. This is thanks to a subsidy from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SPAS). The SPAS also offers a tuition fee loan of up to £3,400 for home postgraduate students. (It should be noted that the Scottish definition of “home” student differs slightly, in that it doesn’t include students from the rest of the UK – i.e. England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Students from the rest of the UK who want to undertake an undergraduate degree in Scotland will pay up to £9,250 a year).

Combine these fees with the average cost of living in the UK, around £12,000 and the total average cost of studying in the UK comes up to at least £22,000 per year. Studying in London, meanwhile, is likely to be significantly more expensive.

Postgraduate tuition fees vary significantly, depending on the university and the subject. Home students may be able to receive some funding from one of the UK’s research councils, the university itself, or via a career sponsorship scheme.

International undergraduate tuition fees vary considerably, starting at around £10,000 and going up to £35,000 or more for medical degrees. At all levels, humanities and social sciences degrees tend to cost the least, while laboratory and clinical degree programs are markedly more expensive.

According to the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS), the average annual cost of living in England (outside of London) for students is £12,056. Most students will spend around £150 per month on food and groceries, or £1,350 per academic year.

If you wish to study in London, you should expect to pay £15,180 per year for the same breakdown of goods and services. The biggest difference in the cost of living in London compared to the rest of England is in rent, with estimated accommodation expenses of £8,034 per academic year of nine months. However, you may be able to find more affordable accommodation in university halls or a flat share.

Home (UK/EU) students are eligible for loans, grants and other forms of funding to cover their UK tuition fees, with differing amounts of funding depending on location. While student loans for home students tend to cover all tuition fees, the additional loan to cover the cost of living in the UK often falls short of the amount actually needed – the maximum living loan in the 2017-2018 academic year is £8,430 for students outside London and up to £11,002 for those who study in London.

As the NUS points out, the figures for the rest of England can only be used as a rough guide to the overall cost of living in the UK.

While these costs may be daunting, remember that most UK universities offer shorter programs compared to countries such as the US (three years for the average undergraduate degree instead of four, and one year for a master’s degree instead of two), so you may be able to subtract a year’s worth of fees and living costs from your total budget!

Undergraduate home students at private UK universities (there are only three) can still apply for tuition fee loans for most courses, as well as maintenance loans and maintenance grants. However, the tuition fee loan might not cover the full amount. A large range of scholarships to study in the UK are also offered by the government, individual universities, independent organisations and various charities.