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SPICe FAQ – Student support 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 further and higher education. This blog offers a brief overview of the main sources of student support for Scottish domiciled students studying in colleges and universities across Scotland.

Further Education

Students studying further education courses at college are eligible for financial help to cover living costs, study and travel expenses (generally this is students studying Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) level 5 or 6 at college).

Those aged 18-24 living with parents are eligible for up to £85.90 per week, while self-supporting students are eligible for up to £108.55 per week.

Students under the age of 18 from low-income families are eligible for Education Maintenance Allowance of £30 per week, with an additional weekly payment of up to £43.15 for those living away from home. Full eligibility can be found on the Scottish Government website.

Each college has its own arrangements for providing students with bursary support. Links to each college’s funding support team website can be found on the Student Information Scotland website. Further information can also be found about support available for childcare costs, travel expenses and discretionary funding.

The Student Information Scotland funding calculator can help students find out what funding they are eligible for. It is important to note that this should only be used as a guide and FE students must confirm funding with their college.

Higher Education

Students living in Scotland studying Higher Education courses at college or university are entitled to have their college or undergraduate tuition fees paid for them by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) for five years in total. This comprises four years for a degree and what is known as a ‘+1’ year to allow for course change or repeating a year. There are some exceptions to this, including medical students, who are generally eligible for cost of living support and free tuition for all five years of study and an intercalated year.

For Scottish-domiciled students not eligible for free tuition, the tuition fees are:

  • HNC and HND and any other sub-degree courses – £1,285
  • First degree or PGDE courses – £1,820
  • Courses at private colleges – £1,205

Students can also apply to SAAS for cost of living support. Payments are made in the form of repayable loans or non-repayable bursaries depending on the age and household income of the student and the course they are studying.

For students who are over 25, married, in a civil partnership, have dependent children or are self-supporting, the maximum loan amount is £7,100. A bursary of £1,000 is available for those with income of £20,999 or less per year.

For students under 25 who are not self-supporting, parental income is taken into account when assessing the funding allocation. The maximum loan amount for dependent students is £6,100. A bursary of between £500 and £2,000 is available for those with household income under £34,000 per year.

Further information on loan amounts and income thresholds is available on the SAAS website. Processing times for applications can also be found on the SAAS website.

Care experienced students are eligible for a non-income assessed bursary of £8,100. Initially this had an upper age limit of 26, but the age limit was removed in 2019. A new 12 month payment option is available to all eligible students in receipt of the higher education Care Experienced Student Bursary from the 2022/2023 Academic Year. This is an opportunity for students to choose whether to receive their bursary payments over term time for nine months or spread their payments over the full year. The total bursary of £8,100 will remain the same.

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is a fund to support disabled students and those with additional learning needs who are studying in higher education and may have extra costs because of their impairment.

DSA has three allowances:

  • the basic allowance, the maximum amount per year, is £1,725
  • the large items’ allowance, the maximum amount for the duration of the course is £5,160
  • the Non-Medical Personal Help allowance (NMPH), the maximum amount per year is £20,520

Paramedic, nursing and midwifery students are eligible for a bursary of £10,000 per year in their first to third years of study and £7,500 in their fourth year.

For eligible postgraduate students, there’s a tuition fee loan worth up to £5,500 and a separate living costs loan of up to £4,500.

The Student Information Scotland funding calculator can help students find out what funding they are eligible for. It is important to note that this should only be used as a guide and HE students must apply for support through SAAS.

Discretionary funds

Discretionary funds are a source of financial help from universities and colleges to students in further or higher education who have financial difficulties or who may not be able to enter further or higher education for financial reasons. Payments from the funds are discretionary and students don’t need to repay them if awarded. Students should contact the student support team at their institution directly for details on how to apply.

Benefits for students

The main ‘means tested’ benefit is Universal Credit.  In general, students cannot claim Universal Credit. However, there are some exceptions including:

  • students who are responsible for a child under 16, or a child who is 16-19 and is in full-time non-advanced education
  • students who are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment or Adult Disability Payment and who have been assessed as having ‘limited capability for work’ before starting the course
  • students under 21 (or who are 21 but were under that age when they started their course) on a full-time non-advanced course who  are ‘without parental support’ (e.g. are estranged from their parents or living away from them in other specified circumstances)
  • single foster parents including some single kinship carers.

Even if someone meets one of these exceptions, student support for living costs is taken into account, which could result in no award of Universal Credit.

The detail of how the exceptions work can be complex.  More information on Universal Credit and students can be found on the Child Poverty Action Group website including a full list of eligibility.

Legacy benefits

Universal Credit is replacing six benefits.  In general, it’s not possible to be a full-time student while claiming these.  The main exception is tax credits which have no special rules for students.  The other legacy benefits also have exceptions to the general rule, including exceptions for disabled students and parents with dependent children. It’s generally not possible to make a new claim for these benefits, so with the roll-out of Universal Credit these rules will apply to a reducing number of people.

Further information

Young Carer Grant

Social Security Scotland offers a £300 annual payment to 16 to18-year-old young carers.  Eligible students need to be caring on average 16 hours a week for someone in receipt of certain disability benefits. Full details of the grant can be found on the Scottish Government website.

Nicole Beattie, Senior Researcher, Further Education, Higher Education and Children’s Services

Blog Image: “graduation hats” by jeco is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.