Student bursaries, scholarships, and financial support

As well as receiving loans to help cover tuition fees and living costs, your students may also be eligible to receive financial support they don't have to pay back.

Scholarships and bursaries may be offered on the basis of a student's academic abilities, household income, or a combination of both. The money could be used to help pay towards tuition fees, books, equipment, childcare and travel.

How much a student receives will vary depending on the university, but the money doesn't have to be paid back (unless they decide to leave the course early) and payments go directly into their bank account. The funding may last for one year or the entire duration of their course. 

Find out more about student finance

What's the difference between a bursary and scholarship?

The terms 'bursary' and 'scholarship' are interchangeable across universities. However, there tends to be one difference:

  • Scholarships are likely to be competitive and often supported by generous donors.
  • Bursaries are usually non-competitive, automatic and based on financial need. They may also be described as 'awards'.

Both are offered by universities, further education (FE) colleges that offer degree courses, charities, trusts, or your local council.

How do students apply?

Students don't need to apply directly to a university for a government-funded bursary or scholarship.

Instead, Student Finance EnglandStudent Awards Agency ScotlandStudent Finance Wales, and Student Finance NI — the government bodies that students apply to for funding — automatically asses the information they receive.

Did you know? Student Finance holds all students' information and passes it on to universities and colleges. The Student Loans Company (SLC) simply pays out the loans and deals with repayments.

Where can students find out what’s available?

As Student Finance only deals with government funding, it's also advisable to find out what universities are offering for the current academic year, as there may be more available this way.

Make sure they're aware of the application process and any closing dates which may apply.

Not all awards may be administered centrally, and so some departments may have funds, scholarships or bursaries which central funding teams, such as ours, are not necessarily aware of. To make sure that students maximise their student income, they should ensure that they check with their department whether there are any such locally managed schemes which they may be eligible to apply for.

Jon Lightfoot, Acting Student Funding Manager, Bristol University

How likely are students to receive funding?

This will depend on a variety of factors, from household income to personal circumstances. To be considered, the university needs confirmation that:

  • a student has applied to Student Finance for income-assessed support
  • the chosen university is on their application
  • their household income has been verified by Student Finance
  • the student (and parents or partner) has given their consent to Student Finance to share information with the university

In addition, a student may be eligible if they fall under one or more of the following criteria:

  • They are a home or EU student.
  • Their household income is less than £25,000 (lowest income families).
  • Their household income is between £25,001 and £42,611 (low-income families).
  • They are under-represented, for example, have UK Refugee status, or live in an area with low participation of young people in higher education
  • They have a disability or a long-term health condition for which Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is not available.
  • They are working or studying away from their university.
  • They have come from a care background.
  • They are caring for an adult or children.
  • They are living in a foyer/hostel or shared accommodation.

In some cases bursaries may not be available to:

  • part-time students
  • postgraduate students 
  • NHS-funded or sponsored students
  • students on placement years/sandwich year, or a year abroad
  • students who are paying reduced rate tuition fees.

Specific types of bursaries include:

  • sports bursaries — students who have shown excellence in sport
  • specified subjects — bursaries that provide an incentive to study specific subjects
  • academic achievement  funding offered for academic excellence, which may be competitive, automatic, or restricted to students from low-income families.

Fee waiver

This covers all or some of a student's tuition fees and may be given by a university or college alongside a bursary in one package of support.

Students won't receive a cash lump sum – instead they will be given a reduction on their tuition fees, meaning the loan needed is less or does not need to be paid back. However, as many students will never pay off their full student loans, this might not be as generous as it first seems.

How to apply: The process is based on similar criteria to bursaries and scholarships, and will be passed on to your student’s university from information held by Student Finance.

University hardship funds

Hardship funds are designed to help if students are having financial problems while studying or before arriving at university. Some universities will also consider specific additional bursary funding for certain students, such as care leavers or students who don’t have any contact with their parents.

In other cases there may be charitable funds that award 'payment in kind', such as IT equipment or vouchers. University students' unions may also run their own smaller scheme.

Hardship funds are also referred to as: 

  • England  Access to Learning Fund
  • Wales — Financial Contingency Funds
  • Northern Ireland — Support Funds
  • Scotland — Discretionary Funds

How to apply: The money is usually awarded by universities to students who receive loans from Student Finance, and is decided on a case-by-case basis. You can apply whether you are studying an undergraduate or postgraduate course on a full or part-time basis.

Priority is given to students with children, students receiving the final year rate of loan, or those unable to work due to illness or disability.

When students are assessed for a hardship fund we will first run a standard assessment to look at their income and expenditure. If they come out with a shortfall then they will be possibly entitled to some support. Often a standard assessment won’t reflect exactly what is going on and by investigating further we can offer more specific advice on budgeting and saving money.

James Poole, Student Welfare Service, University of Leicester