A quick guide to student finance and funding in the UK

The U.K.’s student funding system is confusing at the best of times, but trying to figure out exactly what you are entitled to as a student from overseas can be simply mind-boggling!

Student finance in the U.K. has suffered some changes since 2012, and amidst all the headlines that question rising tuition fees, the new student loan entitlements and application conditions were too easily overlooked.

Whether you agreed with it or not, the increase happened, but rather than let it put you off your pursuit of higher education in the U.K. – which let’s not forget, is arguably the best in the world – it’s important to understand exactly what these changes mean.

Like most countries in the world, if you want to study at a university in the U.K., you will need to provide evidence of how you intend to manage your finances throughout your time abroad. So how much are you going to need?

Here’s our step-by-step guide to international student finance and funding in the U.K.:

Tuition and Fees

The cost of tuition for international students in the U.K. may vary depending on a number of factors. Things like the location of your chosen institution may influence the cost – a university in London, for example, is likely to cost more than anywhere else due to the simple fact that it is one of the most expensive places to live. Generally, studying in the North will be less costly than studying in the South, while Wales, and Cardiff in particular, is one of the most affordable regions in the U.K., and is home to some of the country’s most prestigious universities. The type of the course and length of the course you wish to pursue could also affect the overall cost of tuition.

ESL Courses – Generally, English as a Second Language courses in the U.K. cost £100-£200 per week, but of course this figure doesn’t include the cost of things like food, transport, accommodation and other living expenses.

The best thing to do if you want to study ESL in the U.K. is to do your research thoroughly, look into the pros and cons of each separate university and decide which one best suits your individual needs. If you are looking for a more wallet-friendly option, check out what’s on offer at universities outside of London… because unfortunately, living in the big city is likely to break the bank!

Undergraduate Courses – As with ESL programmes, the cost of an undergraduate degree may vary depending on the course and the institution. Course fees for international students in the U.K. tend to fall around the £15,000 mark, but specialised courses will often cost more – sometimes as much as £30,000 a year. It’s also worth remembering that the length of your course should be considered. A four-year course is inevitably going to cost more than a three-year course, so it’s worth bearing that in mind when planning your finances.

Postgraduate Courses – Despite being shorter than the majority of undergraduate courses, postgraduate degrees generally cost more, sometimes as much as £18,000 a year, but this is because the courses are more specialised and classes are much smaller, meaning more one-to-one teacher attention available to each student. For highly competitive courses such as an MBA or medical degrees, where places are limited and sought-after, costs can soar to almost £50,000 per year, something definitely worth considering before submitting your application.

Living Expenses & Budgeting

Tuition is one thing, but you’ll also need to factor in the general costs of living. You will need to consider expenses like:

  • Accommodation
  • Bills
  • Travel
  • Food
  • Study Materials
  • Entertainment
  • Telephone
  • Internet
  • Clothing
  • Laundry
  • And of course, you’ll need some pennies in the pot to have a little fun!

In addition to the cost of tuition, international students will require around £620-£850 per month to cover general living costs. Students in need of a visa must be able to prove to the UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) service that they have enough money (£1,015 per month) in the bank to cover all these costs.  The following table provides information on what you might expect to pay each month while studying in the U.K. These costs may vary depending on the location of your university, your lifestyle and your daily spending habits.

There are various things you can do to save money. Check out student discounts available online for example, and bag yourself some bargains on the high street and various venues throughout the U.K. Remember, as an international student you are allowed to work 20-hours per week alongside your studies, so you can always take up part-time work to get some extra pennies in the kitty.


Sadly, the U.K. government does not cover the cost of tuition for students from overseas. But there are a lot of scholarship and funding options available to international students – and the best thing about them is that you don’t have to pay them back!

International Scholarship Funds – Many U.K. universities will offer a range of renowned international scholarships designed to attract and reward the top international students. Cardiff University’s 2016 International Scholarship Fund, for example, will provide £1.5m worth of funding awards to the best international students across all academic levels: Foundation, Undergraduate, Postgraduate Taught and PhD.

On top of the scholarships offered by individual institutions, there are various external bodies that offer financial aid to overseas students, and a number of online databases that provide information on the funding that’s available.

  • International Scholarships is a digital scholarship database open to all students. All you need to do is register for free online to gain access to all available international awards.
  • International Education Financial Aid is a site very similar to the above, providing a free resource that allows you to search the international scholarships available around the world.
  • The British Council also manages or administers a number of scholarship schemes, so check out their website to find the available options relevant to your course.

As well as scholarships, international students in the U.K. may also apply for grants, fellowships, bursaries, financial awards and loans. With around 500,000 students studying in the U.K. each year, you can imagine that each of these funding options are in high demand, so to maximise your chance of receiving some form of financial support, submit your application as early as you can.

Other Sources of Funding

There are lots of student funding schemes run by governments, charities and other external organisations. Pop into the Ministry of Education, your local British Council office, or even ask your teachers if they can provide you with the scholarship information specific to your country. Here are a couple you may want to look at:

  • Chevening U.K. Government Scholarships – funded by the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner organisations, Chevening offers two types of award- Chevening Scholarships and Chevening Fellowships- the recipients of which are personally selected by British Embassies and High Commissions around the world.
  • Erasmus Scholarships – the Erasmus programme, the popular study abroad scheme for students based in the EU, provides a series of possible scholarships specifically designed to help students secure the placement they want.
  • Royal Society Grants – the Royal Society offers a wealth of awards that recognise excellence in international students.

The money awarded via a scholarship can be put towards a number of expenses, including the cost of tuition, accommodation and other living costs, but again, this may vary depending on the institution, as well as the body that awards the funding.

As the world’s second most popular study destination after the U.S. and with a global reputation for excellence, U.K. university graduates face increasingly bright employment prospects on both a national and international level. According to the Tracking International Graduate Outcomes survey, international students in the UK are more likely to earn higher salaries than if they’d studied in their home country, showing that no matter what the cost of a U.K. education, your future job prospects will certainly prove its worth.

And this is just a snippet of the financial options available to overseas students in the U.K. Root around, research, dig deep into the online world and see what else you can find! If you look hard enough, you are sure to find something to ease the financial burden throughout your time abroad, and no one knows better than students that every little helps. If you are really struggling and are still unsure of exactly what you are eligible for, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your host institution where someone will be able to point you in the right direction.

Once you have the necessary funding in place, you’re well on the way to securing your world-class degree from one of the globe’s top institutions.


This article was sponsored by Cardiff University, a member of the prestigious Russell Group – one of the U.K.’s, and the world’s most innovative and ambitious higher education associations. Located in Wales’ thriving capital city, this world-leading university was ranked 5th amongst all U.K. universities in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework for quality, as well as 2nd for impact. Cardiff University is internationally renowned for providing an academically outstanding experience for all of its students.

Pictures via Cardiff University and Shutterstock