Awards for degree students are mandatory. An award is made up of a grant for living costs etc. and college fees which are paid direct to the institution. A full award is supposed to cover the tuition fees, college dues, student union fees, plus a grant for board and lodging during term and the shorter Christmas and Easter vacations, books, equipment and travel.
The grant is paid on a means tested scale with a maximum limit set each academic year. If you have been self supporting for at least three years you can claim a grant means tested according to your own (and your spouse's income); if you are 25 or over, or have been married for at least two years when the course starts, you are also classed as an independent student; otherwise, the amount of grant awarded depends on your parents' income. Your parents (or you if you are self supporting) are then expected to pay the remaining costs of studying at college.
If your course includes a period of study abroad, of at least a term, the amount of your grant will vary according to the country. Contact your local education authority (LEA) for further details. You may also claim for any additional travel expenses over a certain amount.
Independent students may claim additional allowances if they are over 26, or have earned over a certain amount during the three year period before the course begins. There are also allowances for dependents and for maintaining a separate home.
If you are accepted for a full time or sandwich first degree course at a UK institution or a similar full time course certified by the Department for Education (DFE) to be equivalent to a first degree, and have lived in the British Islands for at least three years before the course begins, you should be eligible for an award. Courses accepted by the DFE as equivalent to degree courses include BTEC and SCOTVEC Higher National Diplomas, PGCE teacher training courses and Dip HE courses.
There are complex rules if you have been awarded a grant for a higher education course previously. Also, it may be possible to transfer an award to another course and/or college. Contact your college and your local education authority.
You may also be eligible for a full award if either you or your parents are British nationals returning from work in another EC country; have migrant worker status; or are recognized by the government as a refugee (or are married to one). If you have been living in an EC country for three years, you are entitled to an award to cover your fees only. The government is negotiating a similar arrangement for EFTA countries.
If you do not meet any of the residence requirements for eligibility mentioned above, you are not usually entitled to a grant. Overseas students are usually required to pay for the full cost of their education. Students from other EC countries, however, are eligible to pay the lower 'home rate' fees, and can have them reimbursed by the UK government. Contact the college for further details.
You should be able to get the appropriate forms from: your school or college, or direct from your LEA in England and Wales; the Scottish Office Education Department; or your local education and library board in Northern Ireland. There is an initial application form which enables your LEA to assess your eligibility, and a grant assessment form from which the grant and parental contribution are calculated by the LEA Finally there is a college acceptance form, which you send to the college, either when you receive an unconditional offer or later when you know your examination results. They then forward this to your LEA as confirmation that you are accepted for the course. The LEA sends you an award letter as confirmation of your offer and the amount of grant you will receive.
It is a good idea to make the preliminary grant application as soon as you decide you will be taking some kind of course, rather than waiting until you have received an offer of a place. Do not leave the grant application until the last minute, as this may delay payment. You could be faced with large bills at the beginning of term. You can apply from the January before your course begins, but not later than the end of your first term. Your grant cheque will then be sent to the college for you to collect at the start of each term.
The amount of grant you receive will be reviewed every year by your LEA. They may send you a new grant assessment form to do this.
If the amount of grant you will receive depends on your parents' income, it is essential to have their full co operation in preparing the application form. Some students have had difficulties either because their parents refuse to give details of their income or because they are unable, or unwilling, to pay their parental contribution. When the application form is not completed in full, LEAs will only pay tuition fees, with no contribution towards maintenance. Your school or college tutor may be able to help by discussing the problem with your parents. Unfortunately, there is no scheme to help students whose parents do not support them.
Grants for Other Courses
You may be eligible for a discretionary grant for courses below degree level but there are no national scales or regulations. Write to your local education authority for further details, but remember that a discretionary grant may be very difficult to get in times of education cuts.
If you are studying part time for a professional qualification, your employer may be prepared to pay fees, provide a loan or allow time off with pay. Always try and enlist the support of your employer.
If you are not eligible for any kind of grant, some colleges will still accept private students if you can prove that you have the resources to cover the costs of fees, board and lodging, other living expenses, books, travel and holidays etc. If you come into this category you should make it clear on your application form. Discuss the amount you are likely to need with the college in advance.
The government has now introduced a student loan scheme for all students aged fewer than 50 who are eligible for a UK award, except for students from other EC countries. The amount you can receive depends on where you are studying, like a grant, but is not means tested. The scheme is administered by the Student Loans Company.
You can apply for a loan through your college once you are attending your course. You are allowed to make only one application a year, for any amount up to the maximum limit set for that academic year by the government. You will need to complete two forms the Eligibility Questionnaire and the Eligibility and Loan Application Form, obtainable from your college. You can request payment in installments. Agreements must be returned to the Student Loans Company by 31 July for a loan in that academic year. You will need your birth or adoption certificate, your LEA award letter and details of a bank account that can accept 'electronic transfer'.
You can receive a loan for each year you are on the course. The final year's loan is slightly smaller as it does not cover the summer vacation.
The loan is paid back to the Student Loans Company, usually by direct debit in 60 installments over five years, starting the April after you finish the course. The amount owed is adjusted annually in line with the Retail Price Index from the day the loan is credited to your account. You may repay the loan earlier or more quickly if you wish. If your gross income is defined as low' less than 85 per cent of the national average you can defer payments for a year at a time. However, your loan will still be linked to the RPI while repayment is deferred.
People with a Disability
Disabled students can claim the means tested allowances to pay for a non medical personal helper, major items of equipment or other additional costs. In addition, all students can claim travel expenses over a certain amount.
Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities can give help and advice on applying for grants, and publishes a range of very useful leaflets, free to students (with an SAE), including Financial Assistance to Students with Disabilities setting out details about financial help.
If you are disabled, you may still apply for a loan. The Student Loans Company does not include any benefits you may be receiving when assessing your income. They also deduct any "major special costs' from your income. Contact the Student Loans Company for further information.
Full details about grants and loans are given in the DFE leaflet Student Grants and Loans, A Brief Guide, available free from DFE Publications Centre, PO Box 2193, London El 5 2UE, and, for Scottish students, Student Grants in Scotland, A Guide to Undergraduate Allowances from the Scottish Office Education Department, Student Awards, Gyle view House, 3 Redheughs Riggs, South Gyle, Edinburgh EH12 9HH. In Northern Ireland, a similar leaflet, Awards and Loans to Students, A Brief Guide, is available from the Department of Education, Rathgael House, Balloo Road, Bangor and County Down BT19 7PR. Your local LEA may publish its own version of these guides. The Educational Grants Advisory Service, part of the Family
Welfare Association can give financial information to students. It publishes a guide, Money to Study, jointly with the National Union of Students and the UKCOSA.