Student finance, explained!

We know money worries often stop students from applying to university. You might have found the perfect course, but don’t think you can afford to study for three, four, five years. After all, isn’t university really expensive?

The answer is yes and no. This blog post aims to break down student finance for you, explaining what tuition fees and maintenance loans are, how they work, as well as talking you through the various scholarships and bursaries you could be eligible for here at The University of Manchester. On top of this, we’ve spoken to some former UoM students about what student debt actually feels like after university, and whether they feel higher education was a good investment for them.

Tuition fees

Tuition fees are charged by universities to cover costs relating to your academic study. This includes things like lectures and seminars, course administration fees, additional facilities (for example lab space, specific software for your computer) and library access. The maximum amount a university can charge for tuition currently stands at £9250 a year for Home Undergraduate students, and this figure is higher for those coming from abroad.

The idea of paying this much money a year for anything can seem impossible. However you do not need to pay tuition fees upfront – the government gives you a loan via the Student Loans Company (SLC) to pay them every year. In reality, you never even see this money. It doesn’t get put into your bank account but rather is paid directly from the SLC to your chosen university so you won’t be tempted to spend it.

You only start to repay your tuition fee loan once you have finished university and are earning above £27,295.

Maintenance loans

Maintenance loans are designed to help you with your living costs. This could include rent, gas and electricity bills, food, books, and travel costs – anything you consider to be a day-to-day expense. Maintenance loans are means-tested, which means that the amount of money you’re loaned is based on the household income of your parent(s)/guardian(s). If you want to find out what the SLC takes into consideration when assessing household income, I’d recommend listening to this informative webinar by Laura Cragg (she covers what is written here in more detail – head to 06:44 if you want more information on this area specifically!).

One more thing to note is that those who choose to study in London will be eligible for a higher maintenance loan to account for the increased cost of living in the capital city.

Scholarships, Bursaries, and Grants

Many universities have scholarships, bursaries, and grants on offer. Your background or ability to pay should not bar you from accessing higher education, so these initiatives are in place to financially support you throughout your studies. You don’t have to pay these back – they are given to you by universities (or external funders) to help you. We’re going to list a few examples that we offer here, but you can get more information from the University website.

Undergraduate Access Scholarships

The Undergraduate Access Scholarships are available to two groups:

  • Students who successfully complete the Manchester Access Programme and go on to enrol on an undergraduate course at The University of Manchester;
  • Students who are under the age of 25 and have been in care for a minimum of three months since the age of 11.

MAP students who go on to study at the University will be awarded £1,000 in their first year, and if you come from a household where the annual income is below £25,000 you’ll receive the scholarship for each year of study. If you’re a student under the age of 25 who has been in care for a minimum of three months since the age of 11, you too will receive £1,000 a year throughout the duration of your undergraduate course.


Here at Manchester, approximately a third of all our undergraduate UK students will receive bursaries of up to £2,000 per year so it’s really worth checking to see if you’re eligible. There are a couple of bursaries on offer to students.

The Manchester Bursary

This bursary is available to any UK student who is registered on an eligible undergraduate degree course, and who has had a full financial assessment carried out by Student Finance (who sort out your tuition fee payment and maintenance loan we covered above!). The bursaries are given based on your household income, as you can see in the table below:

Residual annual household income  Annual cash bursary
  Up to £25,000   £2,000
  Between £25,001-£35,000   £1,000

The Foundation Year Bursary

If you’re coming to Manchester for a foundation year, you could be eligible for a bursary too. These bursaries are for UK students enrolling on foundation ‘Year 0’ programmes in Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Biosciences, Science, and Engineering and aim to encourage students from diverse educational backgrounds or those who might not have the qualifications needed for undergraduate entry to apply for the subjects they’re interested in. The bursaries are given based on your household income, as you can see from the table below:

Residual annual household income Annual cash bursary
£0-£25,000 £4,000
Between £25,001 and £35,000 £2,000

Once you entered into your first year of undergraduate study you’d then be eligible for the Manchester Bursary too, so don’t worry it’s not a one-or-the-other situation.

These bursaries are transferred to you throughout the year, so don’t expect a big lump sum in your bank account as soon as you start. They usually come in three instalments, and you don’t tend to get the first one until December so make sure you budget accordingly for those first few months.

The University offers bursaries if you’re planning to study abroad or complete a year in industry, or if you’re looking for some financial support so you can complete work experience these are also available. There are also subject specific awards so do have a look at those if you’re interested – they’re designed to support you!

There’s also additional NHS funding in place for those who study certain healthcare courses. You can find more information on the NHS Bursary and the NHS Learning Support Fund here.

Hopefully that’s given you a better understanding of student finance. University is for everyone, and there really is financial support in place to help you while you study. If you’d like to know more about this subject, make sure you keep an eye out for our new series Student finance: in real life where we talk to graduates about their student debt, and how it feels once you finish university and beyond.

This information is correct as of October 2020 and is subject to change.