Ultimate UK Student Finance Guide


Student Finance guide at a glance

Are you a UK resident looking to take a higher education course online in 2021/22?

If so, then this article is for you. We are going to cover all the options available if you are a UK resident looking to take a higher education course online in 2021/22. You will find out about student finance, what kind of loans and grants exist and how much they can offer, as well as scholarships that might be suitable for your needs.

All of this information is essential when deciding, but the first thing to understand when looking to take an online degree or Master’s are the costs involved.

University costs in the UK

How much does an online degree cost from the UK?

Since 2016 the upper limit that universities can charge a full-time student is £9,250 per academic year (120 credits at undergraduate level). While most universities now charge this amount for their on-campus courses many alter the fees for their online options and this can even vary between subjects at an individual university.

Courses that are in demand generally have higher costs but it is almost always set at a lower tuition fee than the equivalent on-campus course. As always, once you have narrowed down your choice of course ask the education provider for the exact costs, but for initial planning, a rough figure for an online degree is around £7,000 per 120 credits. 120 credits represent one year of full-time study at undergraduate level.

YearOn-campus (Max)Online (Approx)
Year 1 (120 credits)£9,250£7,000
Year 2 (120 credits)£9,250£7,000
Year 2 (120 credits)£9,250£7,000
Total degree costs (360 credits)£27,750£21,000

How much does an online Master’s degree cost in the UK?

For Master’s level study it is even harder to give general advice on pricing. In the United Kingdom, there is no upper limit that universities can charge for postgraduate courses. This means that courses, such as MBAs where there is high demand, can have fees that run into the tens of thousands of pounds. However, for most postgraduate courses, universities price them around the maximum amount available via the Government’s Postgraduate Master’s Loan. This is currently set at £11,222. If you are planning to join a high-ranked in-demand Master’s course you may need to use several options to fund your study.

How to fund your study?

Now you have a rough idea of costs, let’s look at the options available if you are a resident in the UK. Your first step should be to check your eligibility for the main government schemes. For undergraduate courses, you can apply for a student loan. For postgraduate study, you can apply for the Master’s loan scheme. If you do not meet the criteria or require more funding, there are dedicated specialist and high street loans that could be an option.

Finally, depending on your situation there may be grants or bursaries available to help with your fees, equipment or living costs. These can either be awarded directly from the university, the government or other 3rd parties.

So to recap the main way that mature students use to fund their study are as follows,

  • Student finance loans
  • Government and university bursaries and scholarships
  • Specialist commercial loans
  • High street bank loans
  • Employer sponsorship
  • Savings


Each person’s situation is different, and you may find that you use a combination of funding options as well as savings to pay for your course. Let’s start by looking at the main government ones first.

Student finance loans explained

In the UK Student loans are the government back loans that UK residents are eligible to apply for when studying at recognised universities for specific qualifications. Currently, these loans cannot be used for short courses or certificates from non-recognised institutions.

What is the difference between Student Loan Company (SLC) and Student Finance England (SFE)?

The difference between Student Finance England (SFE) and the Student Loans Company is that Student Finance England handles the loan application and payment for the course. When you complete your degree or Masters, the Student Loans Company (SLC) handles repayments directly from your salary.

What courses can you get a student finance loan for?

The following certificate courses from recognised education providers are eligible for student loans,

  • First degree, for example, BA, BSc or BEda Foundation Degree
  • Certificate of Higher Education
  • Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)
  • Higher National Certificate (HNC)
  • Higher National Diploma (HND)
  • An Initial Teacher Training course
  • Integrated master’s degree
  • Pre-registration postgraduate healthcare course.


You can use student loans to cover the costs of full-time and part-time online courses listed above. To help, we have an up-to-date list of accredited UK universities that offer online courses eligible for student finance.

Student finance loans for online degrees

Using student finance is one of the best ways to cover your tuition fees for the following reasons.

  • You only start to make repayments when you earn over a certain amount after graduating.
  • After 30 years any unpaid loan is written off.
  • It does not affect your credit score.
  • If you must take time out from paid work your repayments stop, unlike a commercial loan.


Martin Lewis’ Money Saving Expert website has an excellent, in-depth, article about student finance and it is recommended reading.

Student Finance England is the body that manages the government’s student loan system. Student loans are available for part-time study and cover degrees delivered online. To apply you would normally go through the following steps.

  • Apply for your chosen course.
  • Start your student finance application
  • Complete your enrollment using your Student Finance
    England Customer Reference Number (CRN)


If you have a higher-level certificate, such as an HNC, HND or foundation degree, you might be able to get a student loan to cover the costs of a top-up degree.

Student finance loan for a second degree

You can now access student finance to take a Second Degree Loan but only for specific courses.

If you already have an honours degree, you might be eligible for a tuition fee loan to pursue a second honours degree part-time in a new subject such as bioscience, engineering, computing, or mathematics. These are the subjects currently available for a second-degree loan.

  • Agriculture And Related Subjects
  • Architecture (If It’s A March Riba Part 2 Course)
  • Biological Sciences
  • Computer Science
  • Mathematical Sciences
  • Medicine And Allied Subjects
  • Physical Sciences
  • Technologies
  • Courses Leading to Qualification as a Veterinary Surgeon


As everyone’s situation is different it’s best to speak with Student Finance England to go over your situation to understand what you are eligible for.

Student finance loan key facts

Qualifying for a student loan depends on the following:

  • Your university or college
  • Your course
  • If you’ve studied a higher education course before
  • Your age
  • Your nationality or residency status


The only way to know for sure what you are eligible for is to contact student finance and go over your situation.

What courses are eligible for Student Finance?

The following courses are eligible for student loans

  • First degree, for example, BA, BSc or BEda Foundation Degree
  • Certificate of Higher Education
  • Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)
  • Higher National Certificate (HNC)
  • Higher National Diploma (HND)
  • An Initial Teacher Training course
  • Integrated master’s degree
  • Pre-registration postgraduate healthcare course.


How much can you borrow?

The maximum for Part-time study is
£6,935 in an academic year.

The maximum for full-time study is
£9,250 in an academic year.

When do you pay it back?

You replay 9% of earning over £27K.

Funding a Master’s

As there is no upper limit on the amount Universities can charge for a Master’s you will find that fees can vary greatly between subject and institutions. As a general rule, the bigger the impact the qualification has on your earning potential the higher the fees.

While the costs may seem daunting if you are looking to take an MBA at one of the UK’s leading Universities, it does mean that the investment in yourself should give you the career boost you are looking for. The good news is there are several options available to finance your study and you can use more than one.

Postgraduate Master’s Loan

Postgraduate Master’s Loans are very similar to student loans and are administered by Student Finance England and backed by the government.

To be eligible you must be,

  • Living in England
  • Taking your first Master’s
  • Taking a full Master’s. This normally means at least 180 credits making postgraduate certificates and diplomas ineligible for the loans.
  • Under the age of 60 on the first day of the academic year.
  • You cannot use the loan in conjunction with any other government funding.


Another difference between the Postgraduate student loan and Student Loans is that the money is paid directly to you and not the university. You can also borrow the full amount even if your Master’s costs less than the maximum loan value of £11,570. If your course costs more, then you will need to use other sources to pay the difference.

Repaying your Postgraduate Student Loan

The repayment starts at a lower-earning threshold, £21,000 instead of £27,000, but they are set at 6% as opposed to 9% currently for Student loans. The repayment is taken through payroll and will not affect your credit report. As with the student loan if you stop earning your repayment stop as well. Similarly, after 30 years your debt is wiped.

However, you may end up repaying both your Student loan and Postgraduate loan at the same time. Again, Moneysaving expert has an excellent, detailed guide about Postgraduate Student Loans.

Postgraduate Student Loan key facts

Who is eligible for a Postgraduate Student Loan?

You must be living in England and be aged under 60 at the beginning of the academic year and it must be your first Master’s degree.

What courses are eligible for a Postgraduate Student Loan?

Only a full Master’s degree that is 4 years or under in duration is eligible.

How much can you borrow?

Up to a maximum of £11,570.

When do you pay it back?

You pay back 6% of earning over £21,000

Commercial loans to pay for university

There are some lenders and banks that offer loans specifically for Degrees and Master’s. They are useful if you don’t meet the criteria of the government loan schemes or you need extra funds to top them up. These are commercial products and have stricter eligibility and repayment conditions. Be aware that they can have an impact on your credit rating.

However, if you require a loan for your study they may be a better option for you compared to a normal bank loan as they offer some flexibility around repayments whilst you are studying and for a set period upon graduation.

We do not recommend or endorse any of the lenders below and this list is just to help you by showing what is available. For any loan make sure you understand the impact the loan can have on you. The money advice service and citizens advice have excellent information about loans.

Future Finance

Future Finance is a specialist student lender, founded in 2014. They offer specific loans for postgraduate study:

Loan amount – £2,000-40,000, up to £12,500 of which can be for living costs

Basic eligibility – Loans are potentially available to students of all nationalities studying at UK universities and living in the UK

Eligibility criteria – Applications consider your credit score and history, plus the continuation rate, employment rate and potential income for your course; a guarantor may be required

Repayments – You will make repayments from the first month after you receive your loan, but will do so at a reduced rate whilst studying


Lendwise is a peer-to-peer lending service founded in 2018. They distribute funds from individual investors to students on postgraduate and professional courses:

    • Loan amount – £5,000-100,000
    • Eligibility – Loans are potentially available to students of all nationalities studying at UK universities and living in the UK
    • Eligibility criteria – Applications consider your credit score and history, plus your work experience, current salary and academic qualifications as well as the ranking, duration and mode of study for your course
    • Repayments – You will start repaying six months after you graduate

Prodigy Finance

Prodigy Finance was founded in 2007. They focus on international students completing postgraduate courses in Business, Engineering, Law, Medicine and Public Policy at specific universities. These loans are targeted at courses provided by higher-ranking universities with fees that reflect this.

Loan amount – £10,000-220,000

Eligibility – Loans are potentially available to international students from 150 countries studying at selected universities; support may also be available for UK students studying in the UK.

Eligibility criteria – Applications consider your salary, credit score and savings; loans are only available for approved subjects and degrees

Repayments – Full-time students begin repaying 6 months after graduation; part-time students begin repaying 3 months after receiving their first loan payment.

Danske Bank

Danske Bank is a Danish retail bank founded in 1871. It offers postgraduate loans for tuition fees:

Loan amount – From £1,000 up to the maximum amount for your fees

Loans are designed for UK students on courses lasting up to three years

Lower repayments for the first 30 months

No early repayment charges

Unsecured Bank Loans to fund your study

You might be able to take unsecured loans from the high street bank to help with your study costs. These loans will not normally have any flexibility around repayments whilst studying or a grace period upon graduation but may offer a more attractive interest rate.

If you are thinking of using a loan for your study do your research and understand the risks and repayments. The money advice website is a good place to start your research

Scholarships and grants for Degrees and Master’s

If you are taking an online degree or masters you might be eligible for help via grants, bursaries and scholarships. These can range from the full costs of your course to help with equipment and smaller expenses.

Universities usually have dedicated support so it is always worth checking to see what support they provide once you have narrowed down your list of preferred courses.

A great online resource is The Scholarship Hub which is a good place to start your research to see what could be available to you.

Useful links


University Rankings

Use these links to view the full rankings (Opens in a new window)

THE World University Rankings

QS World University Ranking

ARTU Ranking

QS World University Rankings- QS Quacquarelli Symonds rankings data(CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)