Baffled by Welsh Student Finance? There’s no need to wing it! Our bite-sized guide can help you make sense of the funding on offer – and how to get your claws on it.
From grants to loans, students from Wales get access to a whole range of support to help them with their finance at university – which means you can get a degree without being a millionaire!
If you’re struggling to work out exactly what’s on offer, that’s where we come in. Student Finance is different across the UK – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own systems, which can make it really confusing.
To make it as simple as possible, this guide specifically looks at what support is available from the Welsh government for students from Wales and the EU.
Welsh Student Finance in a nutshell
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, these are the main bits you need to know:
- The maximum annual tuition fee in Wales in 2019/20 is £9,000
- Most first-time students can get a loan to help to pay for fees – you won’t need to cough up everything (or, in most cases, anything) in one go!
- Most students from Wales can get at least some of their support in the form of a grant (non-repayable), which caps how much you’ll have to borrow
- There’s other funding for living costs, special circumstances and emergencies, some of which doesn’t have to be paid back
- If you opt for a Student Loan, you won’t need to start paying it back until the April after you graduate and when you’re earning more than £25,725
- Any remaining loan you haven’t repaid after 30 years is written off.
How much does university cost in Wales?
Tuition at Welsh universities is slightly (and we mean slightly) cheaper than in England, with the annual limit for UK and EU students capped at £9,000 (in England it’s £9,250).
In the past, Welsh students have been able to apply for a grant that covered around half of this sum. However, as of the 2018/19 academic year, these grants will no longer be available to new students (they will be available to continuing students who started before the 18/19 academic year).
But don’t panic, because as long as you’re eligible, you’ll get a Tuition Fee Loan (a loan on special terms just for students) to cover the whole cost of your tuition fees while you study – so you don’t have to pay anything up front.
International students can expect to pay more than UK and EU students – typically £13,000/year and up. And unless you meet the nationality and residence requirements, you won’t be in line for any grants or loans from UK Student Finance to help pay for it.
Other university costs
Don’t forget living costs: we’re talking rent, bills, buses, stationery, saucepans – the lot. Plus, you could have extra course costs on top, such as printing, presentations, specialist kit or field trips. And that’s before we even start to consider the cost of having a social life.
It’s worth planning ahead for potential spending and how you’ll pay for it (hint: Student Finance doesn’t always go as far as you think it will). Not sure how to get started? Take a stab at it with our budgeting guide.
How to pay for university in Wales
How to apply for Student Finance
Each part of the UK sets its own criteria regarding who can get funding. In the simplest terms, to get the full selection of Welsh support, you’ll need to be a UK national, live in Wales and have lived in the UK for at least three years, as well as having not previously started a degree.
EU students can also apply for financial support, with limited support for others from the EEA or those who have refugee status.
Otherwise, the main thing to remember is that you can only apply for funding from Student Finance Wales if you live in Wales. If you live elsewhere in the UK, check out our guide to applying for Student Finance to see who you should be applying to.
Paying for tuition fees
If you’re eligible for Student Finance in the UK, new students can choose to take out a Tuition Loan to pay for course fees. It’s not means tested, so getting it isn’t affected by how much money you or your parents have coming in.
How much you can borrow depends on where you’re studying, and the intensity of your course (i.e. whether it’s full- or part-time).
As you can see, the maximum Tuition Loan available for each type of new student usually covers the cost in full:
Tuition fees in Wales 2019/20
Continuing students who started uni after 2012 (but before 2018/19) will still be able to apply for a non-means-tested grant as well as a loan to cover their tuition fees, as outlined below:
Tuition fees in Wales for continuing students 2019/20
Both new and continuing students should note that there is no cap on tuition fees for private institutions (unis that aren’t funded by the government), so even the maximum Tuition Loan may not cover the cost in full.
Paying for uni living costs
In 2018/19 the government changed the financial support package for students, claiming it was to be the “most generous” on offer in the UK.
While we’ll refrain from ranking the Student Finance offerings of each country (because why would you want to?), we will say that the new Welsh system is certainly more generous than some others.
Under the new system, all new Welsh students will receive their maintenance package as a mixture of grants (which don’t have to be paid back) and loans (which do have to be paid back). How much of each component you receive will depend on what your household income is.
For students from households with lower incomes, more of your support package will be in the form of a grant. If your household income is higher, more of your maintenance support will come in the form of a loan.
It’s also worth noting that, geographical differences aside, all Welsh students will receive exactly the same amount of money. You’ll receive a total of £7,840, £9,225 or £11,530, depending on where you end up living.
There’s only one thing that changes in the support given to students with similar living circumstances, and that’s how much of the support comes as a grant or a loan – a split that’s determined by your household income.
This table is a quick guide to the maximum loans and grants available to new Welsh students, based on whether you’re living with your parents:
Maintenance support for Welsh students at home 2019/20
… away from home but outside of London:
Maintenance support for Welsh students away from home 2019/20
… and away from home and in London:
Maintenance support for Welsh students in London 2019/20
As for continuing Welsh students, you’ll continue to receive a loan that will be determined, in part, by whether or not you choose to provide the information required to calculate household income, and also whether you started uni prior to 2018 (when the finance system changed).
Here are the maximum maintenance loan amounts available to continuing Welsh students:
Maintenance support for continuing Welsh students 2019/20
Special Support Grant (SSG)
SSG is available for students in extenuating circumstances, including anyone who matches any of the following criteria:
To find out whether or not you could qualify for SSG, check out the Student Finance Wales website.
Welsh Government Learning Grant
This one’s just for continuing Welsh students and gives extra support in the form of a grant to students with a household income lower than £50,020/year. New students shouldn’t be too dismayed – this is the equivalent of the grant element of your maintenance support, just not as generous.
Students in the lowest band of income (£18,370 and below) will receive the biggest grant, with the amount gradually decreasing as household income increases.
The maximum amount you can receive in 2019/20 is £5,161.
Head over to the Student Finance Wales website for full details on how much you could be entitled to.
Funding for Welsh part-time students
There’s less cash on offer for part-timers per year, but overall, the same amount is available over the course of your studies.
There are no grants for tuition fees, regardless of whether you’re a new or continuing student, and for anyone who started uni on or after 1st September 2014, the amounts available are as follows:
Student Finance for part-time Welsh students
Continuing part-time students can apply for a Course Grant (as per the income requirements) to help cover costs such as books and travel.
If your household income is less than £26,095, you will receive £1,155; if your income is between £26,095 – £28,180, you will receive at least £50; and if your income is above £28,180, you aren’t eligible.
As for Maintenance Loans and Grants, the amount you receive will be proportional to the intensity of your studies (i.e. how long your part-time course takes compared to the full-time equivalent).
While there are loads of other funding sources out there, getting your hands on them can be tricky.
Take a look at our full guide to grants, bursaries and scholarships, or ask your country’s Student Finance team about:
Beyond Student Finance there’s plenty in the pot – if you know where to look:
Paying back your Welsh Student Loan
Once you take out a Student Loan, you don’t need to worry about repaying the money until you’ve left your course… or do you? Here’s what else counts.
First up, you should know that the loan starts brewing interest from day one and until you clear the final payment (or the loan’s wiped off), so you’ll end up owing more than you actually borrowed.
The interest rate for Student Loans in Wales is calculated using the Retail Price Index (RPI) plus up to 3%. While that still beats the pants off most commercial loans, it’s worth remembering RPI essentially measures the rate of inflation – it can go up or down.
The RPI rate is set each September and uses the rate from March of that year. From September 2018 – August 2019, the RPI rate is set at 3.3%, meaning the maximum rate of interest is 6.3%.
While you’re studying, interest on your loan will be set at the full RPI plus 3%. Once you’ve graduated, interest is set on a sliding scale.
Anyone earning under the repayment threshold gets RPI, and for every £1,000 (ish) over £25,725 that you earn, you’ll add another 0.15% onto your interest, up to 3%. This means that anyone earning £46,305 or more will be accruing the maximum interest rate of RPI plus 3%.
You don’t start repaying the Loan until the April after you’ve left your course and earn more than £25,000/year in wages or other taxable income.
Once you hit the threshold, repayments are automatically docked from your wages before you get paid (unless you’re self-employed, in which case it’s calculated when you sort out your tax each year). Either way, you pay 9% on anything you earn above the threshold (not your whole salary!).
Student loan repayments
Crucially, if your income falls below the threshold at any time, repayments stop until you’re back over the line. And from 2019 onwards, the repayment threshold is set to rise each year in line with the increase in average UK earnings.
However, while this is all the case right now, it’s important to remember that the government can and will change the terms of the Student Loan agreement. In 2017, Theresa May announced that the repayment threshold would be rising to £25,000, and although this was a positive change, it did highlight how the terms aren’t set in stone!
Welsh Partial Cancellation of Maintenance Loan
A bit of a mouthful for what’s actually a sweet deal: take out a Maintenance Loan in Wales and, when you make your first repayment (minimum £5), the Welsh Government will pay off up to £1,500 of your balance.
10 top tips for paying for uni
As if all of that wasn’t enough, here are 10 extra tips for getting the most out of the Student Finance system in Wales:
- Make a budget when you start applying for uni: it’ll give you an idea of how much you need to get by and where you can cut costs if you need to
- Apply for Student Finance sooner rather than later. It’ll give you time to chase paperwork, send in evidence and iron out any problems
- Know what counts as taxable income so you’re not screwed over by Student Finance (bonus: it could also help you avoid unnecessary Student Loan repayments)
- You won’t get your first loan/grant instalment until you officially register on your course – keep some cash to hand for when you land on campus, in case your loan is late
- If you can afford to, slice off a bit of every loan or grant payment you get and stick it in a high-interest savings account: you could turn it into no-effort extra income
- Don’t forget to reapply for Student Finance every year of your course!
- Exhaust all the other funding options – don’t just assume you won’t get anything. Loads of students miss out on scholarships and bursaries every year because they don’t know they’re there or don’t bother applying!
- Wherever you get it from, learn how to make your money last
- If part-time work isn’t an option, don’t forget there are about a gazillion ways (give or take) to make extra cash
- Find out where your uni’s hardship funds are stashed, what’s on offer and how to get at it. You’ll thank yourself later!
Now you’ve done the hard bit, it’s time to start making your ultimate university bucket list and buying everything you need for the best uni experience!