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Student Finance

Student Finance in Northern Ireland 2020

From Student Loans to living costs, there's a lot to think about when it comes to money at uni. But don't worry – this guide has all you need to know about Student Finance in Northern Ireland.

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Whatever stage you're at – whether you're getting ready to start uni or you've been there, done that and got the degree – it's super important to get familiar with the facts around Student Finance.

Thankfully, this guide has everything you need to know about funding your studies in Northern Ireland.

Read on to find out about tuition fees, Student Loans and loads of extra ways to cover the costs of university.

This guide is for full-time students only. If this isn't you, check out our guide to Student Loans for part-time students instead.

Student Finance Northern Ireland: A brief overview

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Before we look into Northern Irish Student Finance in more detail, here are the main things to bear in mind:

  1. The maximum tuition fee universities in Northern Ireland can charge is £9,250 a year, but if you're a Northern Ireland resident you can expect to pay much less than that (around £4,395).
  2. Most undergraduate students won't have to pay fees upfront, thanks to the Student Loan.
  3. You won't need to worry about repaying the loan until you've left your course and are earning enough to surpass the threshold.
  4. You can get a Maintenance Loan to help with living costs.
  5. There's also a ton of extra help in the form of non-repayable grants and special support, which cover a whole range of circumstances and emergencies.
  6. Your debt will be cancelled after 25 years, regardless of how much or how little you've repaid.
We cover undergraduate Student Finance in this guide. If you're a master's student, head over to our guide to postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland.

Student Finance in Northern Ireland

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Eligibility for Student Finance

If you're not from Northern Ireland, you can still qualify for Student Finance as a Northern Ireland student if either of the following apply:

  • You are a UK, Republic of Ireland (ROI) or EU national who has lived in Northern Ireland for at least three years before the start of the course.
  • Or you have eligible residence exception status (this includes, but is not limited to, refugees, EEA or Swiss migrant workers or relatives of one, and children of Swiss nationals or Turkish workers – more information here).

And, you can qualify for funding as a European Union student (including ROI) if you meet all of these criteria:

  • You are from the EU (including ROI), the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland and have lived there for at least three years before the start of the course.
  • And you do not qualify as a Northern Ireland student.
  • And you will live in Northern Ireland on or before the first official day of your course.

Funding for university varies across the countries of the United Kingdom. Check out our guides to Student Finance for English students, for Scottish students and for Welsh students for detailed information on each country.

If you're an international student and don't qualify for Student Finance,  remember to still take a look at scholarship and funding options.

How much are tuition fees at Northern Irish universities?

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For 2020/21 entry, students from Northern Ireland and the EU can be charged up to £4,395/year in tuition fees at universities in Northern Ireland. For students from the rest of the UK, tuition fees are up to £9,250/year.

If you're an international student (from outside the EU) you'll have to pay much more – around £14,000 a year or more. It's also unlikely you'll be eligible for UK Student Finance (but always check nationality and residence requirements), so you'll probably need to find funding yourself.

Check out our guide to scholarships for international students for help with this.

Tuition fees in the rest of the UK

If you're from Northern Ireland and want to study elsewhere in the UK, it's worth noting that you won't be entitled to the same lowered tuition fee rate.

Head to Wales and you'll be charged up to £9,000/year, and as much as £9,250/year in England and Scotland. You can still apply for a Tuition Fee Loan to cover the cost of your course – it'll just be a significantly bigger loan than if you'd chosen to study in Northern Ireland instead.

Tuition Fee Loans

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The Student Loan comes in two components: Tuition Fee Loans and Maintenance Loans (more on this later).

The Tuition Fee Loan is paid directly to your university and covers your course fees. It isn't means-tested, so the amount you're entitled to has nothing to do with how much your household income is.

However, the total available Tuition Fee Loan does depend on where you're studying, as fees vary across the UK.

Maximum Tuition Fee Loan amounts for Northern Irish students 2020/21

Where you are studyingMaximum Tuition Fee Loan available
Public university or college in Northern Ireland£4,395
Public university or college in England, Scotland or Wales£9,250
Private university or college in Northern Ireland£4,395
Private university or college in England, Scotland or Wales£4,395

Above are the maximum Tuition Fee Loans you can apply for as a Northern Irish student, depending on where you go to university.

If you're looking to study at a public university or college (one that's funded by the government – most of them are!), your Tuition Fee Loan will cover your fees in full.

However, if you're studying at a private university or college, bear in mind that there's no upper limit on fees for these types of institutions. In fact, tuition fees at private unis can be higher than the cap at public ones, so the maximum loan might not cover the cost of tuition in full.

As for living costs at university, financial support in Northern Ireland comes in a few different forms...

Maintenance Loans

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This is the part of the Student Loan that's paid directly to you, and how much you get is affected by your household income (yours or your parents'). The amount you can apply for is also affected by where you choose to study, and where you're living.

Here's a quick guide to how much Maintenance Loan you can apply for each year:

Where you are livingMaximum annual Maintenance LoanMaximum final year Maintenance Loan
Living with your parents£3,750£3,385
Studying outside London and not living with your parents£4,840£4,480
Studying in London and not living with your parents£6,780£6,170

Please note that in your final year, you'll receive slightly less than in other years. This money comes out of the third instalment, which is usually meant to tide you over until the new academic year – however, as you'll cease to be a student over the summer, you're given a lower final instalment than usual.

Maintenance Grants and Special Support Grants

Happy days – the Maintenance Grant doesn't have to be paid back. However, it is means tested, so you'll need to share details about your household income to get your full entitlement.

Receiving the Maintenance Grant reduces how much Maintenance Loan you're entitled to, but you won't be any worse off. It doesn't mean you're entitled to less money – it just means that out of the total amount you receive, there's a smaller proportion that you have to pay back.

How much annual Maintenance Grant you could receive as a Northern Irish student

Household incomeMaintenance Grant available
£19,203 or less£3,475
Between £19,204 and £41,065Sliding scale based on your household income
More than £41,065None

The Special Support Grant (SSG) is for students entitled to means-tested benefits or allowances (such as if you're a single parent or have a disability). Full eligibility criteria can be found here.

The payout is the same as the Maintenance Grant (and it's still non-repayable), but it doesn't count as income. In other words, it won't affect how big a Maintenance Loan you're entitled to or your entitlement to any state benefits (unlike the Maintenance Grant, which does).

Note that you can only apply for either the Maintenance Grant or Special Support Grant, not both. If you're eligible for the SSG, it's definitely worth applying for that as it doesn't detract from any other funds you're entitled to. But if you're not, the Maintenance Grant is still a pretty sweet deal.

The following tables are a rough guide to the annual amount of loan and grant you should expect to get, depending on where you're living:

Northern Irish students living with their parents

Household incomeMaintenance GrantMaintenance LoanTotal support

Northern Irish students living away from home and outside of London

Household incomeMaintenance GrantMaintenance LoanTotal support

Northern Irish students living away from home and in London

Household incomeMaintenance GrantMaintenance LoanTotal support

How to budget for student living costs

When working out your day-to-day budget for university, remember that you'll need to factor in paying for rent, bills, travel, food and other general living costs. Our guide to student living costs will give you a good idea of how much students spend on average.

You might also find yourself facing other outgoings on your course like printing costs, equipment, resources or field trips – not to mention student textbooks.

Make sure to budget in advance so you're not caught short when you get there. Try it out with our student budgeting guide.

Your Maintenance Loan is paid to you in instalments, so make it last if you don't want to end term in a blind panic. You'll also need a bank account to receive payments, so set one up before you apply.

Extra financial support for students in Northern Ireland

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There's extra, non-repayable funding from Student Finance for students with special circumstances, and you'll need to apply for these along with your fees or maintenance support.

Here are the additional forms of financial support available for Northern Irish students:

  • Adult Dependants' Grant – If an adult is financially dependent on you, you could receive up to £2,695/year.
  • Childcare Grant – If you've got kids in approved or registered childcare, this grant could help you pay for it. You could get up to £148.75/week (£255/week for two or more kids), as long as you're not already getting state aid for the same thing.
  • Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) – If you've got a disability, mental health condition or specific learning difficulty that affects your ability to study, you could be eligible for DSA. There's no set amount that you can apply for, as it's determined by your specific circumstances. For more info, check our guide to applying for DSA.
  • Parents' Learning Allowance – This pays up to £1,538/year (depending on your circumstances) if you're financially responsible for children in your household.
  • Travel expenses – If you're studying a medical or dental course and have clinical placements you need to travel to, or if a reasonable chunk of your course is taught abroad, you could be eligible for travel expenses support. As a grant it's non-repayable, but you'll have to stump up the first £309 yourself.

Other funding options for Northern Irish students

Support Funds

Support Funds (often called 'Hardship Funds' or 'Access to Learning Funds' in the rest of the UK), are there to help students from lower incomes get to, and stay at, university. There may also be cash for students who find themselves in financial difficulties due to emergencies or unexpected costs.

Payouts can be in the form of grants, which you don't have to pay back, or loans, which you do. What you get, and on what terms, is down to the university, so chat with the welfare team at your uni for more advice.

Bursaries, grants and scholarships

There's plenty of funding available from private, industry and university funding sources– if you know where to look. We've got all the info you need to get started in our guide to grants, bursaries and scholarships.

Repaying Northern Irish Student Loans

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You won't start repaying your Student Loan until after you've graduated – but that doesn't mean the amount stays static until you do.

What is the interest rate on Northern Irish Student Loans?

Student Loans in Northern Ireland operate under the Plan 1 system which currently has an interest rate of 1.1%. The most recent change to the interest rate was in April 2020.

Your Student Loan generates interest as soon as you get it – including while you're studying, and right up until you pay it all off (or it gets wiped).

However, as soon as 25 years have passed from the day you were first eligible to start repaying your loan, your remaining debt will be cancelled, regardless of how much or how little you've paid back!

When do you start repaying your Student Loan?

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You'll start repaying your loan the April after your graduate and when you're earning more than £19,390/year (or around £1,616 a month).

Once you start earning this amount, your loan repayments will be automatically deducted from your salary each month – which makes the whole process much easier. If you're self-employed, your repayments will be calculated when you file your tax return each year.

Remember that you'll only ever pay 9% of what you earn over the threshold, so the payments are usually pretty manageable.

If your circumstances change and you're no longer earning over £19,390 a year, your repayments will stop until you're earning enough again.

Also, the threshold rises in April each year in line with inflation. From 6th April 2020 to 5th April 2021, it's £19,390/year, and this will likely increase again in April 2021.

Monthly repayments of your Student Loan

Annual salaryPlan 1 monthly repayments (6th April 2020 – 5th April 2021)

Above are some examples of what your monthly repayments could look like.

You can choose to pay extra towards your loan, or pay it off in full – but this might mean you end up losing money in the long-run. This is because there's a good chance you may not clear your full loan amount through automatic repayments before it's cancelled after 25 years.

If you have a lump sum of money that you could use to clear some of your Student Loan debt, consider putting it towards a deposit on a house instead. It doesn't matter whether you repay your Student Loan now, later or never, and you can't get your money back if you repay early.

In other words, put your money where it's most needed! Check out our guide to Student Loan repayments for more info.

If your Student Loan is late, our guide will talk you through your options.


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