Student Finance got your head in a blur? Clear things up with our stress-free guide to university costs – and the free cash on offer – in Northern Ireland.
Student loans are never simple, and when it comes to the difference between the systems in the UK, it gets even more complicated.
Thankfully, if you’re a student from Northern Ireland, this guide has everything you need to know about getting your funding.
Read on to find out how much university costs, what support is on offer from Student Finance, and extra ways to make it all pay. Let’s do this!
Northern Irish Student Finance in a nutshell
- The maximum tuition fee universities in Northern Ireland can charge is £9,250 a year, but if you’re a Northern Ireland resident you can expect to pay much less than that (around £4,275)
- Most undergraduate students won’t have to pay fees upfront, thanks to the Student Loan
- You won’t need to worry about repaying the loan until you’ve left your course and are earning enough to surpass the threshold
- You can also get a Maintenance Loan to help with living costs
- There’s also a ton of extra help in the form of non-repayable grants and special support, which cover a whole range of special circumstances and emergencies
- Your debt will be cancelled after 25 years, regardless of how much or how little you’ve repaid.
How much are tuition fees in Northern Ireland?
Tuition fees at Northern Irish universities
For 2019/20 entry, students from Northern Ireland and continental Europe can be charged up to £4,275/year in tuition fees at universities in Northern Ireland. For students from the rest of the UK it’s up to £9,250/year.
If you’re an international student (from outside the EU) you’ll have to pay much more – around £13,000 a year or more. It’s also unlikely you’ll be eligible for UK Student Finance (but always check nationality and residence requirements), so you’ll have to find funding yourself.
Check out our guide to scholarships for international students for help with this.
Tuition fees in the rest of the UK
If you’re from Northern Ireland and want to study somewhere else in the UK, it’s worth noting that you won’t be entitled to the same better-than-half-price fees.
Head to Wales and you’ll be charged up to £9,000/year, and as much as £9,250/year in England and Scotland. But (and this is a big but) you can still apply for a Tuition Fee Loan to cover the cost of your course – it’ll just be significantly bigger than if you choose to study in Northern Ireland instead.
Other costs to keep in mind when studying in Northern Ireland
You don’t just need to pay for tuition when you go to university, you’ve got to live, too. Don’t forget you’ll have to pay for rent, bills, travel, food and other general living costs.
Plus, you might find yourself facing other course costs like printing, equipment, resources or field trips – not to mention books.
Make sure to budget in advance so you’re not caught short when you get there. Try it out with our student budgeting guide.
Student Finance in Northern Ireland
Eligibility for Student Finance in Northern Ireland
Funding for university varies across the countries of the United Kingdom – check out our guides to Student Finance in England, Wales and Scotland for detailed information on each country.
Criteria also vary but, put simply, to be eligible for Student Finance in Northern Ireland you must have lived there for at least three years, have residence rights, and be applying for your first degree.
EU students, as well as other students from the EEA and those with refugee status, are also eligible for some support – just check with the relevant Student Finance body for more information.
Paying for tuition in Northern Ireland
The Student Loan comes in two components. The first is the Tuition Fee Loan, which is paid directly to your university and covers your course fees.
The Tuition Fee Loan isn’t means tested, meaning the amount you’re entitled to has nothing to do with how much your household income is.
However, the total available Tuition Fee Loan does depend on where you’re studying, as fees vary across the UK. Here’s a quick guide to how much you can apply for if you’re a Northern Irish student:
If you’re looking to study at a public university or college (one that’s funded by the government – most of them are!), your Tuition Fee Loan will cover your fees in full.
However, if you’re considering studying at a private university or college (one that isn’t funded by the government), bear in mind that there’s no upper limit on fees for this type of institution.
Money for living costs
As for living costs at university, financial support in Northern Ireland comes in a few different forms.
This is the part of the Student Loan that’s paid directly to you, and how much you get is affected by your household income (yours or your parents’). The amount you can apply for is also affected by where you choose to study, and where you’re living.
Here’s a quick guide to how much Maintenance Loan you can apply for each year:
Receiving the Maintenance Grant reduces how much Maintenance Loan you’re entitled to, but you won’t be worse off. This doesn’t mean you’re entitled to less money, it means you are entitled to more money that you won’t have to pay back!
Also note that in your final year, you’ll receive slightly less than in other years. This money comes out of the third instalment, which is usually meant to tide you over until the new academic year – however, as you’ll cease to be a student over the summer, you’re given a lower final instalment than usual.
Maintenance Grant and Special Support Grant
Happy days – the Maintenance Grant doesn’t have to be paid back! However, it is means tested, so you’ll need to share details about your household income to get your full entitlement.
Here’s how large an annual Maintenance Grant you’ll be entitled to as a Northern Irish student:
The Special Support Grant (SSG) is for students entitled to means-tested benefits or allowances (such as if you’re a single parent or have a disability). Full eligibility criteria can be found here.
The payout’s the same as the Maintenance Grant (and it’s still non-repayable), but it doesn’t count as income. In other words, it won’t affect how big a Maintenance Loan you’re entitled to or your entitlement to any state benefits (unlike the Maintenance Grant, which does).
Note that you can only apply for one out of the Maintenance Grant or Special Support Grant, not both! If you’re eligible for the SSG, you should definitely apply for that as it doesn’t detract from any other funds you’re entitled to. But if you’re not, the Maintenance Grant is still a pretty sweet deal.
The following tables are a rough guide to the annual amount of loan and grant you should expect to get, depending on whether you’re living with your parents:
… living away from home and outside of London:
… and away from home and in London:
Other financial support for students in Northern Ireland
Extra support from Student Finance
There’s extra, non-repayable funding from Student Finance for students with special circumstances, and you’ll need to apply for these along with your fees or maintenance support. Here’s what’s on offer in Northern Ireland:
Other funding for Northern Irish students
Support Funds (often called Hardship or Access to Learning Funds in the rest of the UK), are there to help students from lower incomes get to – and stay at – university. There may also be cash for students who find themselves up a financial creek due to emergencies or unexpected costs.
Payouts can be in the form of grants, which you don’t have to pay back, or loans, which you do. What you get, and on what terms, is down to the university, so chat with the welfare team at your uni before things get really dire!
Bursaries, Grants and Scholarships
There’s plenty of cash stuffed into private, industry and university funding – if you know where to look! We’ve got the deets to get you started in our guide to grants, bursaries and scholarships. Go take a look!
Repaying the Northern Irish student loan
You won’t start repaying your Student Loan until after you’ve graduated – but that doesn’t mean the amount stays static until you do.
What’s the interest rate on Northern Irish Student Loans?
Your Student Loan generates interest as soon as you get it – including while you’re studying, and right up until you pay it all off (or it gets wiped).
However, as soon as 25 years have passed from the day you were first eligible to start repaying your loan, your entire debt will be cancelled – regardless of how much or how little you’ve paid back!
Student Loans in Northern Ireland operate under the Plan 1 system, meaning interest accumulates either at the Bank of England’s base rate + 1% or at RPI – whichever is lowest.
The RPI rate for Student Loans is set every September using the figure from March of the same year. Currently, the rate being used is 3.3%. The Bank of England’s base rate is currently 0.75%, which + 1% is still only 1.75% – significantly lower than RPI.
Therefore, Plan 1 loans currently accumulate interest at a rate of 1.75% – which is much less than you would get on most commercial loans.
When do you start repaying your Student Loan?
You’ll start repaying your loan the April after your graduate and when you’re earning more than £18,935/year (or around £1,578 a month).
Once you start earning this amount, your loan repayments will be automatically deducted from your salary each month before you even get your hands on it – which makes the whole process much easier. If you’re self-employed, your repayments will be calculated when you file your tax return each year.
Remember that you’ll only ever pay 9% of what you earn over the threshold, so the payments are usually pretty manageable.
If your circumstances change and you’re no longer earning over £18,935 a year, your repayments will stop until you’re earning enough again.
Also, the threshold rises in April each year in line with inflation – from 6th April 2019 to 5th April 2020, it’s £18,935/year, but it’ll increase in the subsequent year.
Here’s what your monthly repayments could look like (remember these are just guide figures!):
You can choose to pay extra towards your loan, or pay it off in full – but this might mean you end up losing money in the long-run.
The way repayments work right now, you only pay more when you earn more. And, by the same token, you pay less when you earn less. That means there’s a chance you may not clear your full loan amount through automatic repayments before it’s cancelled after 25 years.
You can choose to make additional repayments, but there doesn’t appear to be much reason for doing this. Having Student Loan debt doesn’t affect your credit rating, and the repayments are fairly manageable.
If you have a lump sum of money that you could use to clear some of your Student Loan debt, consider putting it towards a deposit on a house instead. It doesn’t matter whether you repay your Student Loan now, later or never, and you can’t get your money back if you repay early.
In other words, put your money where it’s most needed! Check out our guide to Student Loan repayments for the full lowdown.
And what if you run out of cash? We got you – here’s how to survive a cash crisis!