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How to help your child afford the cost of university

One of the best things you can do to help your child prepare for university is teach them how to budget and make the most of their money.

But first, you need to understand how funding and higher education works yourself.

What is the average cost of university in the UK?

For UK citizens, the government decides how much university courses cost. This is what's known as "tuition fees" and it's simply the cost of the education your child will receive.

The table below shows the current cost of tuition fees per year, for a three-year course and for a four-year course in the four UK countries.

Tuition fees per year Total tuition fees for three year course Total tuition fees for four year course
England £9,250 £27,750 £37,000
Wales £9,000 £27,000 £36,000
Northern Ireland £4,630 for N. Ireland students

(£9,250 for students from elsewhere in the UK)


(£27,750 for students from elsewhere in the UK)


(£37,000 for students from elsewhere in the UK)

Scotland Free for Scottish students

(£9,250 for students from elsewhere in the UK)


(£27,500 for students from elsewhere in the UK)


(£37,000 for students from elsewhere in the UK)

Fees for international students (students who aren't UK citizens or permanent residents in the UK) are set by the universities themselves and these tend to be much higher.

What other costs should you consider?

Of course, this isn't the only cost your child will need to pay. If they plan to move out, they'll need to pay for accommodation and food. Even if they plan to continue living with you, they'll still need to think about how they'll pay for things like transport to their course and their social life.

When working out exactly how much money your child is going to need, it's a good idea to look at what they're likely to spend on:

  • Tuition fees
  • Accommodation
  • Bills (these are often including in accommodation fees if your child moves into Halls of Residence but it's worth checking)
  • Food
  • Travel
  • Phone bill
  • Clothes
  • Social life

How do you pay for university?

Student loans

Student loans don’t function in the same way as normal loans do, which can lead to some misunderstanding.

As well as borrowing money for tuition fees, students can also apply for their loan to cover their "maintenance", which is things like accommodation and food.

They can borrow up to £9,203 a year (or £12,010 a year if they're studying at a London university) on top of the cost of tuition fees, but the exact amount is "means tested", which means it depends on how much money your household has.

The tuition fee part of the loan is paid directly to the university and the student is sent the maintenance part each term, so three payments a year.

Apply for student finance through the UK government website.

How do students pay back student loans?

Previously, students would only start repaying this loan (with interest) once they were earning over £21,000 a year, but this is now £25,000 a year.

That means that graduates don't start paying back their student loans until they earn £25,000 or more. Once they do reach this level, 9% of everything they earn above £25,000 will go to the student loans company until the debt is paid off.

Scholarships and bursaries

This is money that is given to students that they will never need to pay back.

The key difference is that scholarships are competitive, there is only a limited number available so even if your child meets the criteria, someone else might be seen as being more worthy of the scholarship.

Scholarships can be awarded for academic excellence, being good at music or sport, and for personal circumstances that mean a person needs extra financial help.

Bursaries tend to be means-tested and available to everyone who meets the criteria. There are also bursaries available for certain courses, such as NHS bursaries for student nurses, dentists and medical students.

There are plenty of scholarships and bursaries available for university students in need of extra cash so it's worth taking the time to search for them. Many are not well-known so don't get many applicants, meaning your child's chances of being successful are higher.

Search for scholarships on The Scholarship Hub. It's also worth checking the website of the university your child plans to attend as they often have their own scholarship schemes and will be able to advise on which bursaries your child might be able to apply for.

Universities also have hardship funds which they give to students who are struggling financially. Your child will need to speak to the student services department at their university.

Part-time work

Many students take on part-time work in places like bars, cafes and shops to help pay for life while they're at university.

This can really help students learn to budget as they're far more likely to value money if they've worked hard to earn it. But it can be difficult to juggle working with the demands of their course, spending time with their new-found friends and, of course, sleeping. 

If they are saving for university already, our Stocks and Shares ISA invests in funds that buy shares in the stock market. That means their money has good potential to grow more than it might do in accounts that rely on interest rates. However, there is a risk that the value could go down as well as up and they could get back less than they put in.

Child Trust Fund or Junior ISA

If your child was born between 1 September 2002 and 2 January 2011 then it's likely they were given a Child Trust Fund by the government. Use our Child Trust Fund tracer to find out if they have some money waiting for them.

If they're not yet 16, there's still time to open a Junior ISA for your child to build a pot of money to help them at university.

Ways to cut costs at university

Talking to your child about higher education is exciting, but it can be stressful as well. When it comes to saving money, the more tricks you’ve got up your sleeve the better.

Find the best bank account

Once your child turns 18 they'll be able to open a student bank account, as long as they're still in full-time education.

Banks want to make your child a lifelong customer so they will offer really helpful rewards to try and persuade them to open a student account. This includes railcards, vouchers and overdrafts with lower interest rates.

Deals are changing all the time so it's worth shopping around to find an account that will really help your child.

Buy the basics

Martin Lewis states, "student loans assume a greater parental contribution than many realise".

The reality for many students is that even with a loan and a part-time job, just getting by is a struggle. Often, a little help from their parents is the only way.

However, with the costs of everyday living expenses often high on the list (as well as the lure of student nightlife in a big city), a cash injection can often just get lost.

Because of this, many parents prefer buying specific items to help their children out. Some of our favourites include books or vouchers for bookshops, food parcels and ingredients, toiletries and washing powder (perhaps a bit optimistic) and that all important train ticket home.

Will it be enough?

Unfortunately, many students agree that their student loan is not enough. In fact, a survey by The Times Higher Education found that two thirds believe that it's not enough to get by. In some cases, a maintenance loan isn’t enough to cover rent, let alone pay for other necessities.

This leads to a worry that bright, capable young students will not achieve their potential whilst at university. Perhaps this is the reason that the number of applicants to higher education has fallen in recent years. Should we be worried? Not necessarily - but it is important to be prepared.

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