UK tuition fees are frequently a source of controversy, with prices having risen to eye-watering levels for home students (UK/EU) in recent years. Now, UK and EU students at English universities are required to pay up to £9,250 (~US$13,050) per year.
International undergraduate tuition fees vary considerably, starting at around £10,000 (~US$14,130) and going up to £38,000 (~US$53,700) or more for medical degrees (source: Reddin Survey of University Tuition Fees). At all levels, humanities and social sciences degrees tend to cost the least, while laboratory and clinical degree programs are markedly more expensive, but when you combine these fees with the average cost of living in the UK, around £12,200 (~US$16,950) per year, then it can be hard to see how it’s possible to study in the UK without it costing you a small fortune. The total average cost of studying in the UK is estimated to be at least £22,200 (~US$31,380) per year, with studying in London likely to be significantly more expensive.
While these costs may be daunting, remember that most UK universities offer shorter programs compared to countries such as the US (three years for the average undergraduate degree instead of four, and one year for a master’s degree instead of two), so you may be able to subtract a year’s worth of fees and living costs from your total budget.
If these figures haven’t been enough to put you off studying in the UK, here’s a closer look at what you’ll be spending your money on, and how Brexit may affect your costs.
Students’ cost of living in the UK
Current UK student visa requirements stipulate that you must have at least £1,015 (~US$1,435) in your bank account for each month you plan to stay in the UK anywhere outside of London. This works out as £12,180 (~US$17,200) per year.
If you wish to study in London, you’ll need to budget considerably more – at least £1,265 (~US$1,800) per month, the equivalent of £15,180 (~US$21,500) a year.
When you’re here, you can make the cost of living in the UK more affordable by taking advantage of student discounts – for example, students in London can get an 18+ Student Oyster photocard, giving you 30 percent off travelcards and bus/tram season tickets, and students all over the country can apply for an NUS Extra Card for a small fee.
One other way to beat the banker and make your money go further is to study somewhere in the UK where the cost of living is cheaper. According to the Natwest Student Living Index 2017, Welsh capital Cardiff is the most affordable city for students in the UK, followed in the top three by Aberdeen in Scotland, and Durham in north-east England.
Most students live in university halls of residence in their first year before moving into rented private accommodation in their following years. Many universities offer both self-catered and catered halls of residence, with food included in the price of rent for the latter.
The biggest difference in the cost of living in London compared to the rest of the UK is in rent, with University College London (UCL) estimating accommodation expenses of £8,073 (~US$11,400) per academic year (nine months/39 weeks). However, you may be able to find more affordable accommodation in university halls or a flat share.
The results of Save the Student’s National Student Accommodation Survey 2017 found that students spend an average of £125 (~US$175) per week on rent in the UK – with a huge regional variation: students in Northern Ireland spent only £91 (~US$129) a week, which is exactly half the amount spent by those in London (£182/US$257). Unless bills are included, you’ll probably spend a further £70 per month (~US$100) on bills for utilities and the internet.
Other average living costs in the UK
A weekly food shop will likely cost you about £30/$42, and a meal in a pub or restaurant can be about £12/$17
Depending on your course, you’ll likely spend at least £30 a month on books and other course materials
Your mobile phone bill is likely to be at least £15/$22 a month
Gym membership costs roughly £32/$45 a month, but you may be able to get a student discount
A typical night out (outside of London) costs about £30/$42 in total
In terms of entertainment, if you want to watch TV in your room, you need a TV license – this is £147 (~US$107) per year. A cinema ticket costs roughly £10/$14
Depending on your spending habits, you might spend £35-55 (US$49-77) or so on clothing each month
UK tuition fees – UK/EU students
There are two levels of tuition fees at publicly funded UK universities: home student fees (including EU students) and international student fees. For home students, institutions in England can charge up to a maximum of £9,250 (~US$13,050) per year for undergraduate degree programs. In Wales, the maximum fee is £9,000 (~US$12,700), while in Northern Ireland the limit is £4,160 (~US$5,900) for EU and Northern Irish students, and up to £9,250 for students from the rest of the UK.
In Scotland, an undergraduate degree is effectively free for students from Scotland and the EU. This is thanks to a subsidy from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). The SAAS also offers a tuition fee loan of up to £5,500 (~US$7,770) for home postgraduate students.
It should be noted that the Scottish definition of “home” student differs slightly, in that it doesn’t include students from the rest of the UK – i.e. England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Students from the rest of the UK who want to undertake an undergraduate degree in Scotland will pay up to £9,250 a year.
There’s also good news for students from Wales, who only need to pay £3,900 (~US$5,500) per year in UK tuition fees to study anywhere in the UK, with the rest covered by the Welsh government.
Postgraduate tuition fees vary significantly, depending on the university and the subject. Home students may be able to receive some funding from one of the UK’s research councils, the university itself, or via a career sponsorship scheme.
UK tuition fees – international students
For international students, undergraduate fees for 2017/18 started at around £10,000 (US$14,130) for lecture-based courses, going up to £38,000 (~US$53,700) or more for a top undergraduate medical degree. You can view the 10 most affordable universities for international undergraduates here.
At postgraduate level, international fees for classroom-based programs in 2017/18 started at around £11,000 (~US$15,545) and went up to £32,000 (~US$45,200). For laboratory-based programs, average annual fees vary from £12,000 (~US$16,940) to £27,200 (~US$38,400). You can view the most affordable UK universities for international postgraduates here.
UK scholarships and student funding
Home (UK/EU) students are eligible for loans, grants and other forms of funding to cover their UK tuition fees, with differing amounts of funding depending on location. While student loans for home students tend to cover all tuition fees, the additional loan to cover the cost of living in the UK often falls short of the amount actually needed. In the 2017/18 academic year, the maximum living loan was UK£8,430 (~$11,900) for students outside London and up to £11,002 (~US$15,500) for those who study in London. In both cases, this is likely to be a few thousand pounds short of your annual living expenses.
Undergraduate home students at private UK universities (of which there are only three) can still apply for tuition fee loans for most courses, as well as maintenance loans and maintenance grants. However, the tuition fee loan might not cover the full amount.
A large range of scholarships to study in the UK are also offered by the government, individual universities, independent organizations and various charities. The Education UK website provides an overview of scholarships available from the British Council and other organizations. It is also worth checking to see what scholarships and support schemes are available from the government and other organizations in your own country.
Prominent UK scholarships for international students include:
Chevening Scholarships – Government-funded UK scholarships open to outstanding students with leadership potential from around the world, to study at postgraduate level at accredited UK universities.
Marshall Scholarships – Scholarships for high-achieving US students to study in the UK.
Commonwealth Scholarships and fellowships – UK scholarships offered by member governments to citizens of other Commonwealth countries.
UK scholarships are more widely available at postgraduate level, with relatively few offered for undergraduate students. However, always check with your chosen university, as support is often available for exceptional undergraduate students.
For a longer list of prominent international scholarships to study in the UK, see this article. For advice on scholarship applications, download our guide on how to find scholarships to study abroad.
What impact will Brexit have?
The UK’s decision to exit the European Union (Brexit) means many EU students are concerned that their tuition fees could increase. However, there’s no sign the government plans to increase fees yet. In fact, so far many UK universities have pledged to keep tuition fees fixed at the same rate for current EU students for the duration of their course. It’s also been confirmed that EU students enrolling at UK universities in both autumn 2018 and autumn 2019 will remain eligible for the same fees and financial aid as domestic students throughout their course, even after the UK leaves the EU in March 2018.
This article was originally published in October 2013. It was most recently updated in July 2018.
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