Student Finance

Northern Irish Student Finance guide 2018

Student Finance got your head in a blur? Clear things up with our stress-free guide to university costs – and the free cash on offer – in Northern Ireland.

student finance in northern ireland

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Student loans are never simple, and when it comes to the difference between the systems in the UK, it gets even more complicated.

Thankfully, if you're a student from Northern Ireland, this guide has everything you need to know about getting your funding.

Read on to find out how much university costs, what support is on offer from Student Finance, and extra ways to make it all pay. Let's do this!

Northern Irish Student Finance in a nutshell

northern ireland student finance summary

  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.
  2. Most undergraduate students won't have to pay fees up front, 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 also 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 special circumstances and emergencies
  6. Your debt will be cancelled after 35 years, regardless of how much or how little you've repaid.

How much are tuition fees in Northern Ireland?

how much does university cost in northern ireland

Tuition fees at Northern Irish universities

For 2018/19 entry, students from Northern Ireland and continental Europe can be charged up to £4,160/year in tuition fees at universities in Northern Ireland. For students from the rest of the UK it's up to £9,250/year.

If you're an international student (from outside the EU) you'll have to pay much more – around £13,000 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 have 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 somewhere else in the UK, it's worth noting that you won't be entitled to the same better-than-half-price fees.

Head to Wales and you'll be charged up to £9,000/year, and as much as £9,250/year in England and Scotland. But (and this is a big but) you can still apply for a Tuition Loan to cover the cost of your course – it'll just be significantly bigger than if you choose to study in Northern Ireland instead.

Other costs to keep in mind when studying in Northern Ireland

living costs at university in northern ireland

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You don't just need to pay for tuition when you go to university – you've got to live, too. Don't forget you'll have to pay for rent, bills, travel, food and other general living costs.

Plus, you might find yourself facing other course costs like printing, equipment, resources or field trips – not to mention books.

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

Student Finance in Northern Ireland

paying for university in northern ireland

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Eligibility for Student Finance in Northern Ireland

Funding for university varies across the countries of the United Kingdom – check out our guides to student finance in England, Wales and Scotland for detailed information on each country.

Criteria also varies but, put simply, to be eligible for student finance in Northern Ireland you must have lived there for at least three years, have residence rights, and be applying for your first degree.

EU students, as well as other students from the EEA and those with refugee status are also eligible for some support – just check with the relevant student finance body for more information.

International students typically can't access Student Finance, but check the details to make sure – and don't forget there are lots of scholarship and funding options available.

Paying for tuition in Northern Ireland

tuition fee loans in northern ireland

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The Student Loan comes in two components. The first is the Tuition Fee Loan, which is paid directly to your university and covers your course fees.

The Tuition Fee Loan isn't means tested, meaning 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. Here's a quick guide to how much you can apply for if you're a Northern Irish student:

You're studying at a...Maximum Tuition Fee Loan available
Public university or college in Northern Ireland£4,160
Public university or college in England or Scotland£9,250
Public university or college in Wales£9,000
Private university or college in the UK£4,160

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 considering studying at a private university or college (one that isn't funded by the government), bear in mind that there's no upper limit on fees for this type of institution. 

In fact, tuition fees at these universities are often higher than the cap at public institutions, so there's a good chance that the maximum loan won't cover the cost of tuition in full.

Money for living costs

help with living costs northern ireland student

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

Maintenance Loan

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:

You are...Maximum full year 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

Receiving the Maintenance Grant reduces how much Maintenance Loan you're entitled to. If that's going to cause you sweats, check if you're eligible for the Special Support Grant instead (but note that you can't get a Special Support Grant and a Maintenance Grant!).

Also 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 Grant and Special Support Grant

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 hosehold income to get your full entitlement.

Here's how big an annual Maintenance Grant you'll be entitled to as a Northern Irish student:

Household incomeGrant 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's 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 one out of the Maintenance Grant or Special Support Grant, not both! If you're eligible for the SSG, you should definitely apply 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 whether you're living with your parents:

Household incomeMaintenance GrantMaintenance LoanTotal support
£19,203£3,475£1,863£5,338
£25,000£2,201£2,199£4,400
£30,000£1,215£2,535£3,750
£35,000£689£3,061£3,750
£41,540£0£3,750£3,750

… living away from home and outside of London:

Household incomeMaintenance GrantMaintenance LoanTotal support
£19,203£3,475£2,953£6,428
£25,000£2,201£3,289£5,490
£30,000£1,215£3,625£4,840
£35,000£689£4,151£4,840
£41,540£0£4,840£4,840

… and away from home and in London:

Household incomeMaintenance GrantMaintenance LoanTotal support
£19,203£3,475£4,893£8,368
£25,000£2,201£5,229£7,430
£30,000£1,215£5,565£6,780
£35,000£689£6,091£6,780
£41,540£0£6,780£6,780
Maintenance cash 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.

Other financial support for students in Northern Ireland

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Extra support from Student Finance

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's what's on offer in Northern Ireland:

  • 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 means you face extra costs as a student, you could eligible for DSA. There's no set amount that you can apply for, as it's determined by your specific circumstances. Check the Student Finance Northern Ireland website for the full details
  • 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 medicine or dentistry 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 this. As a grant it's non-repayable, but you'll have to stump up the first £309 yourself.

Other funding for Northern Irish students

Support Funds

Support Funds (often called Hardship 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 up a financial creek 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 before things get really dire!

Bursaries, Grants and Scholarships

There's plenty of cash stuffed into private, industry and university funding – if you know where to look! We've got the deets to get you started in our guide to grants, bursaries and scholarships. Go take a look!

Spend a year in the States

If getting paid to study in America sounds like something you'd be interested in, there's British Council funding to help you get there.

It's fairly restrictive regarding who's eligible – you'll need to be in your second or penultimate year, and willing to spend a year studying business – but if you're keen, check out the deadline and plan ahead.

Repaying the Northern Irish student loan

repaying student loan northern ireland

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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's the interest rate on Northern Irish Student Loans?

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 35 years have passed from the day you were first eligible to start repaying your loan, your entire debt will be cancelled – regardless of how much or how little you've paid back!

Student Loans in Northern Ireland operate under the Plan 1 system, meaning interest accumulates either at the Bank of England's base rate + 1% or at RPI – whichever is lowest.

The RPI rate for Student Loans is set every September using the figure from March of the same year. Currently the rate being used is 3.1%, however in September 2018 it will rise to 3.3% (March 2018's rate).

The Bank of England's base rate is currently 0.5%, which + 1% is still only 1.5% – significantly lower than RPI. Therefore, Plan 1 loans currently accumulate interest at a rate of 1.5% – which is much less than you would get on most commercial loans.

When do you start repaying your Student Loan?

You'll start repaying your loan the April after your graduate and when you're earning more than £18,330/year (or around £1,527 a month).

Once you start earning this amount, your loan repayments will be automatically deducted from your salary each month before you even get your hands on it – 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 £18,330 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 2018 to 5th April 2019, it's £18,330/year, but it'll increase in the subsequent year.

Here’s what your monthly repayments could look like (remember these are just guide figures!):

Yearly salaryPlan 1 monthly repayments (6th April 2018 – 5th April 2019)
£18,000£0
£19,000£5
£22,000£27
£25,000£50
£30,000£87.50
£40,000£162.50

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.

The way repayments work right now, you only pay more when you earn more. And, by the same token, you pay less when you earn less. That means there's a chance you may not clear your full loan amount through automatic repayments before it's cancelled after 35 years.

You can choose to make additional repayments, but there doesn't appear to be much reason for doing this. Having Student Loan debt doesn't affect your credit rating, and the repayments are fairly manageable.

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 the full lowdown.

Got any questions about the Northern Irish Student Finance system? Let us know in the comments and we'll do our best to answer them!

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