This guide covers funding for students studying a full-time undergraduate degree at a UK university.
Brexit: the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 and entered a transition period which ends on 31 December 2020. Any information in this guide reflects what has been confirmed as of December 2020. We will update this guide as we learn more.
With world renowned teaching, research, and facilities – as well as a rich historical and cultural heritage – there’s a reason why the UK is one of the most popular study destinations in the world.
However, this doesn’t come for free. International students can expect tuition fees that are typically three or four times that which domestic students pay, while cities like London are not cheap to live in.
While the majority of EU and international students funding is for postgraduate study, hopeful undergraduate students can still get extra financial support to help them achieve their overseas study dreams.
But before you start packing your bags, you need to be prepared to look for it, and beat off the competition.
How much money will you need to live on? Use our student budget calculator to get a rough idea of your living costs at different UK universities.
Funding for EU and international undergraduate students in the UK can generally be split into two categories: those offered by UK universities and those offered by third parties – usually governments, or commercial and charitable organisations, in a student's home country.
Sometimes, funding will be awarded as part of a partnership between a university in the UK, and a local representative in another country.
Scholarships are the most common form of funding available for EU and international students, with students usually applying on the basis of academic ability or potential, or talent in another area, like sports or music.
These may cover tuition fees in full, reduce them, or contribute to the cost of living and studying away from home, in the UK.
Bursaries and grants based on students’ personal circumstances – like coming from a low income household, or experiencing some other form of disadvantage – are less common. They’re usually one-off payments, sometimes to help with travel costs, or costs to settle in.
Some EU students may be eligible for some of the same scholarships, bursaries, and grants available to UK students – like those awarded for academic achievement, or to disabled students. However, following changes due to Brexit, fewer EU students starting courses in 2021 will meet these eligibility criteria. Check the UKCISA website for more information on these changes.
University scholarships and bursaries
Universities offer scholarships and bursaries to attract students from overseas, and to help them with the substantial cost of moving far from home to study.
There are many types of scholarship available to international and EU students:
Academic, merit, and excellence scholarships are awarded to students with a strong academic background, including achieving strong grades in their school exams.
This doesn’t have to mean getting the highest grades possible. For instance, international students at one university automatically receive an international merit scholarship worth between £1,000 and £2,000, if they get CCC or above (or equivalent).
Other merit or excellence scholarships may be more competitive, requiring you to talk about your extracurricular achievements, interest in your subject, future ambitions, plus any personal circumstances you’ve overcome, in an application.
You may be invited to an interview too.
It’s worth the effort though. For example, one university’s merit scholarship slashes international students’ tuition fees by half.
Subject-specific scholarships are similar to academic scholarships, but for students studying a specific course or subject.
They’re usually administered by the relevant school or department at a university, and may be donated by an external organisation, or in memory of a former professor.
The eligibility criteria and application process typically focuses on your interest, skills, and experience in that subject, like any relevant work placements you’ve done. In some ways, it could be similar to your personal statement.
As part of the application process, there could be a subject-specific task or project to complete, such as giving a presentation on a topic, or providing a portfolio of work.
Any extra benefits that come with the financial award may be tailored to your subject or course, such as contributions towards field trips or special equipment.
Plus, receiving a subject-specific scholarship is something you can show off in future applications for internships or graduate jobs – especially those in competitive fields.
You don’t have to study a related degree, either. However, you may be expected to take on certain roles or responsibilities, such as playing on a university team, or performing at events on campus.
There’s usually an audition stage to apply, or you may have to provide other evidence of your abilities, like a video of you performing, or a statement from an appropriate individual.
While these scholarships might reduce tuition fees or contribute towards general living costs, they’re often created with the purpose of helping students develop their skill or talent. For example, one university’s music scholarship rewards international students with regular lessons, and a £300 bursary for related costs only, like sheet music.
Equal access or sanctuary scholarships, for refugees and asylum seekers who’ve fled persecution in their home country are available. This can take the form of a tuition fee reduction or waiver, or a maintenance award.
Eligibility typically depends on your immigration status. You won’t qualify if you can access other funding, i.e. you’re sponsored by a company or your government, or you’re eligible for student finance.
- Disability scholarships are to support international students with a disability, long term mental health condition, learning difficulty, or other special need. These may contribute towards extra costs that you incur as a result of your condition. Note, if you’re an EU student and you’ve lived in the UK for five years prior to the start of your course, you may be eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). This covers the cost of any special equipment and resources that you need at university. This is assessed based on your individual needs, and doesn’t need to be repaid.
Bursaries (one-off payments) may be awarded under these circumstances too.
International students may receive a bursary or fee reduction from a university, based on a prior relationship or existing link with them:
- a family member, i.e. a sibling, parent, child, or spouse, is a current student or alumnus
- they studied a prior qualification at that university, and are continuing their studies there, e.g. moving from foundation degree to undergraduate degree
- they participated in an international summer school, exchange, or similar programme at that university, and are continuing their studies
Tuition fee discounts may be available to international students who pay their fees in full, at the start of their course
In addition to any specific criteria that relates to the purpose of a particular scholarship for example, achieving certain grades for an academic merit scholarship – international students normally have to satisfy the following when it comes to scholarship from a university:
- you’re either an EU or international student – possibly from a specific country or continent, and you pay overseas fees
- you live in an EU or international country – this may be a specific country
- you’re funding your studies yourself, as opposed to being sponsored by your government, your employer, etc.
- you’ve accepted an offer for full-time undergraduate course at that university – you may have to accept this as your firm choice too
- you meet the grade requirements and conditions that come with your offer
The application process for a scholarship will depend on the type of award, and may vary from one university to another. However, most will involve some kind of application form, that can be completed and submitted online. These can take time, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.
You may need to submit additional (translated) documents or evidence, such as a copy of your passport or other documents confirming your immigration status, academic transcripts, supporting statements or references, and portfolios (including video files).
Bursaries tend to be more straightforward, and may be awarded automatically.
Non-university scholarships and bursaries
As well as universities, international scholarships to study an undergraduate degree in the UK are typically provided by governments, commercial and charitable organisations, and special interest groups involved in international education – these may be in your home country, or in the UK.
A university may have a list of these scholarships for international students, on their website.
Because there are many different providers of scholarships, the eligibility criteria and application process for these can vary wildly.
- What funding do you offer EU and international students, or students from specific countries?
- Do you have links with organisations, charities, or governments around the world, to offer funding to international students from these countries?
- What criteria do EU or international students normally have to satisfy for a scholarship?
- How can students calculate whether their grades in their local qualification meet the criteria for a merit scholarship? Is there somewhere online to convert these?
- Do students need to attend an interview or audition? If so, how does this work? Do students have to travel to the university, or can this be done in students’ own country, or via the web.
- Do you favour certain countries when it comes to funding for EU and international students?
- Who reviews applications and decides who receives a scholarship?
- How many awards are available per scholarship?
- Do you favour applications from prospective undergraduates who have already studied with you, or participated in a programme you run, like a summer school or English language course?
- Do students have to accept an offer as their first choice, in order to be eligible for a scholarship?
- Do you offer scholarships for students who are sponsored, and not self-funded?
- Do students need to do anything or fulfil any commitments once they arrive at university, in order to receive their award, like take on a student ambassador-type role?
- Documents and other supporting evidence – these may need to be translated into English, to make it easy for those reviewing your application at a university in the UK.
- Keep documents organised and stored in a safe place where you can easily access them – both original print copies and backed up digital versions.
- Be persistent – scholarships for international undergraduate students aren’t as widely available as those for postgraduate students. Those that are, are really competitive – especially if they promise a massive fee reduction, or are offered by a top university.
- If you’re unsuccessful, don’t be disheartened. Move on to the next scholarship, and stay positive. Set yourself goals, like applying for one scholarship per week.
- Also, get feedback from parents or teachers, so you’re not repeating any mistakes.
- Ask questions – those reviewing scholarship applications are usually very busy, but they’ll be happy to help you if you have a valid question. Make sure your question isn’t too broad or general (e.g. ‘What scholarships do you offer?’), or that the answer isn’t already easily available.
- Your message should be written to a good standard of English. Ask someone you trust to check it, before you press send.
- Watch out for scholarship scams – if a scholarship or bursary sounds too good to be true, then be careful – it may be a scam to steal your personal information or money. This is common online whenever there’s the promise of a financial award.
- Watch out for warning signs, like being contacted by someone you don’t know, messages with poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation, or being asked to pay a fee upfront.
- If you’re researching a particular university, organisation, charity, etc. visit their official website, rather than trust something you see on social media. If you’re not sure if something is real or not, ask your parents or a teacher to take a look.
Learn more about additional funding, that you don’t need to pay back.