Student Finance in Wales 2020
Baffled by Welsh Student Finance? There's no need to wing it! Our bite-sized guide can help you make sense of the funding on offer – and how to get your claws on it.
From grants to loans, students from Wales get access to a whole range of support to help them with their finance at university – which means you can get a degree without being a millionaire!
If you're struggling to work out exactly what's on offer, that's where we come in. Student Finance is different across the UK – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own systems, which can make it really confusing.
So, to make it as simple as possible, this guide specifically looks at what support is available from the Welsh government for students from Wales and the EU.
What's in this guide?
Student Finance Wales: A brief overview
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, these are the main things to know about Student Finance in Wales:
- The maximum annual tuition fee in Wales in 2020/21 is £9,000, although you may pay slightly more if you choose to study elsewhere in the UK.
- Most first-time students can get a loan to help to pay for fees – you won't need to cough up everything (or, in most cases, anything) up front.
- There are Maintenance Loans and Grants for living costs, plus extra funding for special circumstances and emergencies – some of which doesn't have to be paid back.
- If you opt for a Student Loan, you won't need to start paying it back until the April after you graduate and when you're earning more than £26,575.
- Any remaining loan you haven’t repaid after 30 years is written off.
Student Finance in Wales
As we explained earlier, Student Finance offerings vary across the UK. But, rather than being affected by where you end up studying, the funding body you apply to is determined by where you normally live.
So, if you normally live in Wales, you'll apply for funding from Student Finance Wales – no matter where in the UK you're planning to study.
Eligibility for Student Finance
In order to receive funding from Student Finance Wales, you must normally meet the following residency criteria:
- You're a UK citizen or have 'settled status'.
- You normally live in Wales. Annoyingly this is about as specific as they get, but if you're unsure whether or not you'd satisfy this part of the criteria, contact Student Finance Wales directly.
- You've lived in the UK for at least three years before starting your course.
That said, there are a few additional groups who are eligible. EU nationals (and their family members), refugees, migrant workers and the children of either Swiss nationals or Turkish workers are among those who are also able to apply for funding from Student Finance Wales.
Beyond the residency criteria, you must be studying at a government-funded uni or college, or at a privately-funded institution running individual courses that have been approved for funding by the Welsh government. Again, if you're unsure if this includes you, get in touch with Student Finance Wales or contact your uni/college.
Your course must lead to one of a number of qualifications, including First Degrees (Bachelors of Arts and Science, and so on), Foundation Degrees, PGCEs and more.
Finally, while there is no upper age limit for Maintenance Grants or Tuition Fee Loans, you must be aged under 60 on the first day of the first academic year of your course (usually 1st September) to be eligible for a Maintenance Loan.
Tuition Fee Loans
Tuition at Welsh universities is slightly (and we mean slightly) cheaper than elsewhere in the UK, with the annual limit for UK and EU students capped at £9,000 (in the rest of the UK it's £9,250).
In the past, Welsh students have been able to apply for a grant that covered around half of this sum. However, as of the 2018/19 academic year, these grants are no longer available to new students (they will be available to continuing students who started before the 18/19 academic year – more on that in a sec).
But don't panic, because as long as you're eligible, you'll get a Tuition Fee Loan.
If you're studying at a public university or college, this will cover 100% of the cost of tuition up front, but if you're studying at a private institution, it's likely that the maximum loan won't cover the cost in full – especially as there is no cap on fees at private unis.
Here are the maximum Tuition Fee Loans available to Welsh students:
Tuition Fee Loans in Wales 2020/21
|You're studying at a...||Maximum Tuition Fee Loan available|
|Public university or college in Wales||£9,000|
|Public university or college in the rest of the UK||£9,250|
|Private university or college in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales||£6,165|
|Registered provider in England||£9,250|
Note that if you started university before 1st August 2018, you're still eligible for a Fee Grant that will cover around half of your fees each year. Unlike a loan, this does not need to be repaid. Here's how big a Tuition Fee Loan and Grant is available to these students:
|You're studying at a...||Maximum Tuition Fee Loan available||Maximum Fee Grant available|
|Public university or college in Wales||£4,470||£4,530|
|Public university or college in Scotland or Northern Ireland||£4,720||£4,530|
|Private university or college in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales||£6,165||N/A|
|Registered provider in England||£4,270||£4,530|
Maintenance Loans and Grants
How much financial support you'll receive from Student Finance Wales for living costs depends on when you started uni. For students whose course started on or after 1st August 2018, you're subject to a new(er) system that pays the same amount to all students in similar living situations.
While we'll refrain from ranking the Student Finance offerings of each country (because why would you want to?), we will say that the new Welsh system is certainly more generous than some others.
But whichever system you're under, as is the case in most parts of the UK, your maintenance support is paid directly into your bank account in termly chunks – so once you get it, you'll need to make it last!
Under the new system, all new Welsh students and those who started on or after 1st August 2018 will receive their maintenance package as a mixture of grants (which don't have to be paid back) and loans (which do have to be paid back). How much of each component you receive will depend on what your household income is.
For students from households with lower incomes, more of your support package will be in the form of a grant. If your household income is higher, more of your maintenance support will come in the form of a loan.
It's also worth noting that all Welsh students with similar living circumstances will receive exactly the same amount of money. You'll receive a total of £8,335, £9,810 or £12,260, depending on where you end up living.
There's only one thing that changes in the support given to students with similar living circumstances, and that's how much of the support comes as a grant or a loan – a split that's determined by your household income.
This table is a quick guide to the maximum loans and grants available to new Welsh students, based on whether you're living with your parents:
Maintenance support for Welsh students living at home 2020/21
|£18,370 or less||£6,885||£1,450||£8,335|
|£59,200 or more||£1,000||£7,335|
... away from home but outside of London:
Maintenance support for Welsh students living away from home 2020/21
|£18,370 or less||£8,100||£1,710||£9,810|
|£59,200 or more||£1,000||£8,810|
... and away from home and in London:
Maintenance support for Welsh students living in London 2020/21
|£18,370 or less||£10,124||£2,136||£12,260|
|£59,200 or more||£1,000||£11,260|
As for Welsh students who started their course before 1st August 2018, you'll continue to receive a loan that will be determined, in part, by whether or not you choose to provide the information required to calculate household income, and also whether you started uni prior to 2018 (when the finance system changed).
Here are the maximum maintenance loan amounts available to Welsh students whose course started before 1st August 2018:
|You are living...||Maximum Maintenance Loan available|
|At home with your parents||£5,848|
|Away from home and studying outside London||£7,555|
|Away from home and studying in London||£10,584|
Welsh Government Learning Grant
For students under the newer funding system, the Welsh Government Learning Grant (WGLG) is just a fancy name for the grant aspect of your Maintenance Loan. If you're one of those students, you can skip this section.
But for students whose course started before 1st August 2018, things are slightly different (and, sadly, not quite as generous). There's still a grant on offer, and it'll still replace some of the loan you're entitled to, but the amounts on offer aren't quite as big.
The maximum WGLG available is £5,161 and is unaffected by where you live or study – the only determining factor is your household income.
Students in the lowest band of income (£18,370 and below) will receive the maximum grant, with the amount gradually decreasing as your household income increases. If your household income exceeds £50,020, you won't be eligible for a grant.
Head over to the Student Finance Wales website for full details on how much you could be entitled to.
Special Support Grant
The Special Support Grant (SSG) is available to all Welsh students, regardless of your start date, and unlike the WGLG for students who started before 1st August 2018, it won't reduce the size of Maintenance Loan you're entitled to either.
The SSG is designed to give extra funding to students with one of a number of extenuating circumstances, some of which include:
- You're a single parent with dependent children
- You have dependent children and your partner is also a full-time student
- You're eligible for certain specified disability benefits.
To find out whether or not you could qualify for SSG, check out the Student Finance Wales website.
Other funding sources for Welsh students
While there are loads of other funding sources out there, getting your hands on them can be tricky.
Take a look at our full guide to grants, bursaries and scholarships, or ask your country's Student Finance team about:
- Maintenance Loan top-up if your course lasts longer than 30 term-time weeks
- Childcare Grant
- Parents' Learning Allowance
- Adult Dependants' Grant (if you're financially responsible for another adult you live with)
- Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA)
- Travel Grants.
Beyond Student Finance there's plenty in the pot – if you know where to look:
- NHS funding for eligible courses (a non-repayable grant and bursary on top of the Maintenance Loan)
- Social work bursary or support for teacher training
- Uni bursaries and scholarships
- Business sponsorships, government incentives and charity funds
- All kinds of weird and wonderful bursaries!
Repaying your Welsh Student Loan
Once you take out a Student Loan, you don't need to worry about repaying the money until you've left your course… or do you? Here's what else counts.
First up, you should know that the loan starts brewing interest from day one and does so until you clear the final payment (or the loan's wiped off), so you'll end up owing more than you actually borrowed.
Student Loans in Wales operate under the Plan 2 system, meaning interest is calculated using the Retail Price Index (RPI) plus up to 3%. While that still beats most commercial loans hands down (especially private student loans), it's worth remembering RPI essentially measures the rate of inflation – it can go up or down.
The RPI rate is set each September and uses the rate from March of that year. From September 2020 – August 2021, the RPI rate is set at 2.6%, meaning the maximum rate of interest is 5.6%.
While you're studying, interest on your loan will be set at the full RPI plus 3%. Once you've graduated, interest is set on a sliding scale.
Anyone earning under the repayment threshold (£26,575) gets RPI, and for every £1,000 (ish) over £26,575 that you earn, you'll add another 0.15% onto your interest, up to 3%. This means that anyone earning £47,835 or more will be accruing the maximum interest rate of RPI plus 3%.
You don't start repaying the loan until the April after you've left your course and earn more than £26,575/year in wages or other taxable income.
Once you hit the threshold, repayments are automatically docked from your wages before you get paid (unless you're self-employed, in which case it's calculated when you sort out your tax each year). Either way, you pay 9% on anything you earn above the threshold (not your whole salary!).
Student Loan repayments for Welsh students
|Annual salary||Plan 2 monthly repayment (6th April 2020 – 5th April 2021)|
Crucially, if your income falls below the threshold at any time, repayments stop until you're back over the line. And, as of 2019, the repayment threshold now rises each year in line with the increase in average UK earnings.
However, while this is all the case right now, it's important to remember that the government can and will change the terms of the Student Loan agreement.
When tuition fees were overhauled in 2012, the repayment threshold was £21,000 and was meant to rise each year. The government then backtracked on this and froze it, before later u-turning again in 2017, announcing it would be rising to £25,000, increasing each year thereafter with inflation. Although the final outcome was positive, it did highlight how the terms aren't set in stone!
For full details on your repayment terms, check out our guide to understanding Plan 2 loans.
Welsh Partial Cancellation of Maintenance Loan
A bit of a mouthful for what's actually a sweet deal: take out a Maintenance Loan in Wales and, when you make your first repayment (minimum £5), the Welsh Government will pay off up to £1,500 of your balance.
10 top tips for paying for uni
As if all of that wasn't enough, here are 10 extra tips for getting the most out of the Student Finance system in Wales:
- Make a budget when you start applying for uni: it'll give you an idea of how much you need to get by and where you can cut costs if you need to.
- Apply for Student Finance sooner rather than later. It'll give you time to chase paperwork, send in evidence and iron out any problems.
- Know what counts as taxable income so you're not screwed over by Student Finance.
- You won't get your first loan/grant instalment until you officially register on your course – keep some cash to hand for when you land on campus, in case your loan is late.
- If you can afford to, slice off a bit of every loan or grant payment you get and stick it in a high-interest savings account: you could turn it into no-effort extra income.
- Don't forget to reapply for Student Finance every year of your course!
- Exhaust all the other funding options – don't just assume you won't get anything. Loads of students miss out on niche scholarships and bursaries every year because they don't know they're there, or don't bother applying!
- Wherever you get it from, learn how to make your money last.
- If part-time work isn't an option, don't forget there are about a gazillion ways (give or take) to make extra cash.
- Find out where your uni's hardship funds are stashed, what's on offer and how to get at it. You'll thank yourself later!
Now you've done the hard bit, it's time to buy everything you need for the best uni experience.