SPICe FAQ – Higher Education student funding in Scotland

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SPICe regularly receives enquiries from MSPs and their staff on behalf of constituents looking for information on funding for undergraduate or postgraduate studies. This blog offers a brief overview of the main sources of student support for Scottish domiciled students studying at higher education level.

Student Awards Agency for Scotland

Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) is the main government agency for financial support for Scottish domiciled students doing a course of higher education in the UK. Prospective students should contact SAAS directly to clarify what funding support they are eligible for based on individual circumstances. However, detailed funding guides are also available.

The funding guide for academic year 2019-20 details all government funding available for full-time undergraduate study, covering:

  • tuition fees
  • living costs bursaries/loans
  • bursaries for care experienced students
  • dependants’ grant
  • lone parents’ grant
  • disabled students’ allowance
  • discretionary fund
  • discretionary childcare fund.

Funding is limited for part-time students. However, they can apply for a part-time fee grant.

A separate funding guide is available for postgraduate students, who can apply for a tuition fee loan and, if studying full time, for a living-cost loan. Starting with the academic year 2019-20, this funding will be available to eligible students for both Taught and Research Masters, as announced by the Scottish Government earlier this year. For PhD training, the typical route to get financial support is through application to one of the seven UK-based Research Councils.

Other sources of funding

In addition to SAAS funding, most universities also offer their own awards and scholarships, with eligibility criteria set at institution level. A survey conducted in 2018 on behalf of the consumer organisation Which? found that six in ten students didn’t apply for any bursaries, scholarships or financial support from their university, mostly because they didn’t think they’d be eligible. Universities may also offer fee waivers and hardship funds, so it is worth checking what support is available.

Private funding

Many industrial organisations and government departments have competitive schemes which students can apply to via JobCentres or Careers Services.

Alternatively, charitable trusts and private companies may also offer sponsorship, especially where there are employment opportunities available for graduates.

International students

Currently, EU students can apply to SAAS for funding to cover tuition fees. On 19 April 2019, the Scottish Government announced that it would meet the cost of tuition fees for eligible EU students starting a further or higher education course in 2020-21, for the entirety of their course. The Scottish Government confirmed that the offer of tuition fee support ‘will stand even if current legal obligations to EU students cease to apply when the UK exits the EU’.

International students from outside the EU can access information on scholarships and financial support via the British Council website.

The British Council also offers information to UK-based students who are looking to study or work abroad.

Further information

The Scottish Government produces an annual publication which sets out the help available to students in Scotland. The Guide to learner funding is a comprehensive outline for learners and students including those going to college or university.

Further information and advice on money at university, including student funding and tuition fees is also available at mygov.scot.


Alexandra Gherghiniş, Enquiries Assistant