Undergraduate student finance

Most undergraduate students will be funded by the UK Government during their studies. This usually means that they receive a loan to cover the costs of their tuition fees and to contribute to their living costs. This loan is not paid back until students graduate and is then charged at 9% of all earnings above a set income threshold (currently £26,575 in 2020-21).

These pages contain information on the student loans system and the most frequently asked questions we get from students about this. This should complement the student loans information provided by the University, here. There are also excellent resources available elsewhere, like the Big Fat Guide to Student Finance by Save the Student.

If you have read our webpages and require further advice, you are welcome to email advice@exeterguild.com or book a drop-in appointment with an adviser.



Are you eligible for a student loan?

To be eligible for a student loan for an undergraduate degree, each of the following statements will usually need to be true:

  1. You are a UK or Irish national, or an EU national with ‘settled status’.
  2. You normally live in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man and have done so for the past three years before starting your course.
  3. You are studying an eligible course at a UK college or University - this should apply to all University of Exeter undergraduate degrees.
  4. You do not already have a degree-level qualification. There are a few exceptions here – most notably if you are studying for a healthcare degree.

Student loans are available for both full-time and part-time students, although anyone studying part-time will need to be taking at least 30 credits in a year to be eligible for a loan.

The maximum entitlement for student loans is normally the length of your course, plus one year, so if you have already received student finance for more than one year of an earlier degree, you may not be eligible for funding for the full duration of your studies. See the section below on making requests for consideration of additional funding if you need an extra year’s funding and believe you may have ‘compelling personal reasons’.

There is additional information about funding entitlement, and there are some exceptions not covered above. For example there are exceptions to these rules for students over the age of 60 and students with special residential status, e.g. refugees. We would encourage students with special circumstances, or who are uncertain of their entitlement, to contact Student Finance for information. Relevant contact details can be found here.

Eligibility details for students living in England can be found here, as well as links to the relevant processes for students living in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

If you’re not sure whether or not you would count as a home student for the purpose of tuition fees and/or student finance, you might want to review the information provided by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) here.


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How much could you be entitled to receive towards your living costs?

The amount of student finance you’re eligible to receive will depend on your household income, which country of the UK you live in, and whether you will be living away from home while you study. Save the Student has helpfully collated the key information on each country within the UK, and you can find this here.

Students living in England are able to apply for loans for both tuition fees and maintenance, with the level of maintenance loan available depending on household income. In the other UK nations, as well as loans there are some grants available to students. If you want to know more, see the ‘maintenance grants’ information within the ‘how to pay for University’ section of this guide.

If you’re studying part-time and live in England, you will be eligible to receive a percentage of the loan that would be available to a full-time student in your circumstances. This is worked out on the basis of the percentage of credits you are taking and the entitlement someone with your household income would have if they were studying full-time. It isn’t an exact percentage conversion; rather it works in bands:

Number of credits

Maximum part-time Maintenance Loan (% of full-time amount)

0-29

None

30-39

25%

40-59

33.3%

60-79

50%

80-89

66.6%

90-119

75%

120

100%

For students living in Wales, the 2020-21 part-time maintenance loan entitlements (and Welsh Government Learning Grants) are explained here.

For students living in England, there is a student finance calculator to help you estimate what you should be entitled to.

Because the assessment process relies heavily on household income (which usually means parental income), it is important that students who do not have family support are aware of the process of applying for independent status, and the support we can provide to ‘estranged’ students in this position. See our information below if this applies to your circumstances.


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How to apply for student finance

For students living in England:

The Government provides information on how to apply for student finance here, and Student Finance England have produced a video summary for 2021-22. The Student Loans Company has also written this article which summarises the process.

For most new and continuing students, the process is online. You’ll need to have an account with Student Finance England and can set one up if you haven’t already. You’ll then need to complete the relevant forms.

For 2020-21, any student whose household income is below £58,221 is eligible to receive a higher maintenance loan than the basic package. It is usually in your interests to take this higher level of loan if you’re eligible for it, as it will give you more cash while you are studying and you will only pay back your loan at a rate of 9% of what you earn above a threshold level (currently £26.575 in 2020-21). Only high earners will ever pay back the full amount of their loan and the debt is written off after 30 years, so a student loan really is a much lower risk debt than a commercial loan.

If you do apply for a higher loan, you will need to provide details of your household income (including your parents’ income if you are living with them).

If you’re a new applicant for student finance, you will also need to provide proof of your identity.

In terms of when to apply, it’s best to do this well in advance of starting your course. It’s expected that you will apply before 31st May to give you the best chance of receiving your loan at the start of term in September. You don’t need to have confirmed your place already in order to make a student finance application.

If you don’t apply for student finance before you start your course, for whatever reason, you are able to apply for up to nine months after your first day on your course. More details can be found here.

For students living in Wales:

The basics of the application process are very similar to the information above for students in England, although the Welsh funding regime has different income thresholds and funding available. See ‘How much could you be entitled to receive towards your living costs’ above for more information.

Details of how and when new students living in Wales can apply are here. For continuing students this information is here.

Please share our AY 2021/22 campaign page and ‘Discover student finance’ film to let students know what funding they can apply for. And if you can, help us get our Facebook and Twitter messages and YouTube videos to more students by sharing our posts.

Please remind your continuing students that they will also need to reapply for AY 2021/22 through their online account. They should do this by 25 June to ensure their funding is in place before their course starts.

Students should keep in mind that initial volumes to the application system may be high. Our services may therefore be very busy for a while.

For students living in the other nations:

Processes in the other home nations are similar, but may not be identical. For students living in Scotland, the information is here. For students living in Northern Ireland, it can be found here. Students living in the Channel Islands, or Isle of Man, or who have special residency status, may want to contact student finance if they are not sure of their entitlement or application arrangements.


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When will you get your student loan?

Student loans are paid in three instalments at roughly the beginning of each academic term and it usually takes six weeks for an assessment to take place. However there can sometimes be delays in receiving payment, particularly in term one, as the University has to confirm that you have registered for the year before your payments can be made. For many students, this means that the first instalment of student loans is not received until after Freshers’ Week, and it is important to budget for this when planning your transition into University life, accommodation, etc.

It is also important to know that you may receive your loan later if you applied after 31st May, if you have not provided all of the information required by your funding body, or if there is any other issue with your application. You should review the process of your application online to make sure you are aware of its status and what you can expect.

Using your online student finance account, you should be able to see your planned payment dates for the academic year.

If you do find yourself in a position where you anticipate financial difficulties while you wait for student loan to come in, you may find the information in our Financial Struggles and Help section useful.


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What to do if your circumstances change

It’s not unusual for a student to change their course, or even university, after applying for student finance. If this happens, you should be able to simply update your details using your online student finance account.

There are a number of other changes that could happen, which would require you to notify your funder. See these pages, if you live in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland. If you live in Scotland and your circumstances change, you will need to contact SAAS.

If your household income has recently dropped

When your student finance eligibility is assessed, you will be asked about your household income in the previous financial year. So students applying for finance for 2021-22 will be assessed on the basis of their family income between April 2019 and April 2020.

For some families, their income might drop after that financial year; this is especially relevant following the economic impact of Covid-19. If you are in this position and you expect that your income for the new financial year will be at least 15% less than the previous one, you can request a ‘current year income assessment’. Information on how students living in England can do this is listed here, and information for parents is also available. The information for students living in Wales is here.

Students from Northern Ireland can request a current year assessment if their income falls by 5% or more; the Current Year Income Assessment form can be found on the Student Finance NI website.

Students from Scotland should contact SAAS if they believe their household income has put them into a different funding bracket. See here for information.

If you have read the relevant information for your funding body and still need advice on requesting a current year assessment, please email us at advice@exeterguild.com, or book a drop-in appointment with an adviser.


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What to do if you do not have family support

What to do if you do not have family support If you do not have family support, you may be eligible to be assessed for student finance as an ‘independent’ student. This could be relevant to you if you are a mature student, have been in care, or if you are estranged from your family and do not receive support from them. To be considered an estranged student, you won’t have had any written or verbal contact with either of your parents and this will be unlikely to change. These circumstances would usually have lasted for a period of at least twelve months, but all cases would be considered. We would encourage any student in this position, or any student who has been recently cut off from their family, to contact us for support and advice on what may be available to them. More information is available on our website on support for estranged students, students who have been in care, and other groups who may be eligible for specific support tailored to their circumstances.


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Shariah compliant student funding

Many Muslim students and applicants have concerns about taking on student loans due to it requiring them to pay interest. If you have religious objections to interest-based banking, there are options you can take.

Unfortunately the UK government has not yet implemented alternative student loans based on the Takaful model. Discussions on doing so took place in 2014. There has been some discussion on whether this may be implemented at some point, but there’s nothing concrete about this and certainly no idea when it may happen. The NUS is committed to campaigning for Sharia compliant student loans. The NUS has produced a template letter to help you write to your MP on this issue.  


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Where you can go for financial support

The University can offer some financial support.  

If you have one off difficulties that require extra money you can apply for the Success for All Fund. This is Exeter’s fund designed to support students who need additional funding to study and remain at Exeter. Unfortunately, this fund does not cover tuition fees.  

The Access to Exeter Bursary is for students whose parent or guardians’ household income is under £25,000 a year and, depending on your year of student and household income, you could be eligible for financial assistance each year. This is assessed based on your Student Finance application but you can request a household income assessment but not a maintenance loan or tuition fee loan.  

The National Zakat Foundation offers grants to Muslim students to help pay for their course. The COSARAF Foundation’s Sheikh Family Scholars’ Fund offers grants of up to £2000 for Muslim undergraduate home students in financial difficulties. Applications are considered once a year in October.  

If you are looking for a loan, companies such as EdAid offer a deferred tuition model. This is, however, a private company and we have no way to assess the quality of their service.  


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Making a request for additional years funding in exceptional circumstances

The maximum entitlement for student finance is the length of your course, plus one year. So you could end up being ineligible for student finance if you repeat more than one year, drop out of a course after more than one year, or otherwise end up in a situation where you need more than one additional year’s study to be funded.

Sometimes this happens to students because of compelling person reasons. For example, if a student has had severe mental health difficulties, extreme and unusual family circumstances, or other reasons that might be considered exceptional to allow for extra funding.

If you find yourself in this position, you can apply to your funding body for your student finance, and write to them to explain and evidence your compelling personal circumstances (see here for details from Student Finance England).

There is no clear rule on which circumstances will or won’t be considered adequate in such an application and a decision will be taken by the assessor who considers your case. We can help students who have faced these compelling personal reasons to present their case as well as they can, and we can provide advice on the types of evidence that might be helpful in presenting such a case. Please email advice@exeterguild.com or book a drop-in appointment with an adviser if you would like support with this.


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Bursaries for students from low income households

If you are a full-time undergraduate student with home fee status, and your household income is below £25,000, then you will be eligible to receive the Access to Exeter bursary as long as you have applied for means tested student finance and selected that you are happy for details of your application to be shared with the University.

This bursary is processed automatically and details of the level of bursary, payment dates and more can be found on the University’s webpages here.

Please see our section on ‘Shariah compliant student funding’ above if your household income is below £25,000 but you are not taking out a student loan because of religious concerns about the requirement to pay interest. You will still need to apply for means-tested student finance, requesting no tuition fee loan and no maintenance loan, in order to be eligible for the Access to Exeter bursary.


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Paying back your student loan

This page explains student loan repayments for students from England and Wales who started their courses after 2012. Anyone who studied before that, or who received their loan from another funding body, should refer to their funding body’s information. An explanation of student loan repayments is also included in Save the Student’s Big Fat Guide to Student Finance.

Student loans are much lower-risk than ordinary commercial loans. In fact, you only pay anything back from the April after you’ve left University and once you’re earning above a threshold level (currently £26,575 in 2020-21).

You then pay 9% of everything you earn above that threshold. So:

  1. a graduate earning £26,574 in 2020-21 would pay nothing
  2. a graduate earning £27,575 would pay £90 a year
  3. a graduate earning £36,575 would pay £900 a year
  4. a graduate earning £76,575 would pay £4,500 a year

If you are a high-earning graduate, you might pay off your loan in full, but if you do not (like most graduates), then your loan will be written-off after 30 years or upon your death. Because of this, it’s not usually in students’ interests to make early repayments, unless they are high earners who will eventually pay off the full loan and want to minimise the interest accrued.

While you still have an outstanding loan, your payments will be automatically taken from your monthly wages when you are paid, or you will need to make repayments when you submit your annual self-assessment tax return if you are self-employed.

Student loans currently accrue interest of up to 5.6% (much lower for students from Scotland and Northern Ireland).

One note of concern regarding student loans is that their terms can be changed by the Government, so interest rates and repayment thresholds, for example, might be altered in future.


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What happens if you leave University without completing your degree

If you leave University before completing your degree, you will still have the student loan debt that you had taken out up to that point, and you will still have to make repayments if you exceed the earning threshold from the April after you leave. So, in effect, you will be treated the same as anyone who had completed their degree, although your loan may not be for quite as much.

You should also be aware that if you do leave University early, it will affect your entitlement to future student finance. The standard entitlement is to the length of the course you are studying, plus one year, and even a small part of the year counts as a full year for these purposes.

So if you have already studied for more than one full or part year and choose to leave, then you are unlikely to receive funding for a future degree. See our section on ‘making a request for additional years’ funding in exceptional circumstances’ above, for more information.


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Financial support for specific groups of students

Additional student finance may be available to students with disabilities, students with dependents and students who are parents. The University, Guild and other organisations also offer support and/or advice to other groups of students – see our pages on ‘additional help for specific students’ for more information.


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Finding out more about student finance

If you would like to know more about student loans, student finance, and any of the information above, you might want to view one or more of the following resources:

  1. Save the Student’s Big Fat Guide to Student Finance
  2. Martin Lewis – Student Loans Decoded: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/students/student-loans-decoded/
  3. Government information for students (England): https://www.gov.uk/get-undergraduate-student-loan
  4. Video information on applying for student finance in 2021-22 (England): https://youtu.be/RQTd6ngTR_U 
  5. Government information for students (Wales): https://www.studentfinancewales.co.uk/
  6. Government information for students (Scotland): https://www.saas.gov.uk/ 
  7. Government information for students (Northern Ireland): https://www.studentfinanceni.co.uk/

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