The government wants to ensure individuals are not deterred from coming to universities because of lack of funds. Coupled, therefore, with the introduction of tuition fees is an extensive system of support for students from low-income families, including University Bursaries, all designed to encourage wider access to higher education. In developing these, the universities seem not to have made any clear cut distinction between the words ‘bursary’ and ‘scholarship’, but rather to use these interchangeably.
Student grants (or Maintenance Grants) have largely been introduced for new full-time students from less affluent homes to help them with the costs of going to university. Unlike student loans, any grants, bursaries and scholarships do not have to be repaid – they are yours to keep and spend as you like. But, that said, they are more difficult to describe because they come in all shapes and sizes and have different names in the various UK countries. To help matters, we will deal with them on a country-by-country basis.
Estimates suggest that up to two-thirds of all new students might be eligible for a full or partial Maintenance Grant from the government. And if you’re eligible for a full grant then you are guaranteed a bursary from your university or college. How much Maintenance Grant you will receive is dependent on family income, and for 2011 onwards the maximum is £2,906. You will receive this maximum support if your family income is £25,000 or less. For entry in 2011, with a family income of between £25,000 and £50,020 you will be eligible for a partial grant, but above £50,020, you will not be eligible. To keep your debt manageable, you cannot have a full Maintenance Loan and a full Maintenance Grant. The (repayable) loan will be reduced by a £0.50 for every £1 of the grant you receive. Like your Maintenance Loan, this Maintenance Grant is paid in three instalments (monthly in Scotland), the first at the start of the academic year.
The position here is very similar to that in England with both a means-tested Maintenance Grant and bursaries from the universities all of which do not have to be paid back. However, there is a more generous upper limit in Northern Ireland of £3,475 if your family income is £19,203 or less.
In Wales, you could be eligible not only for an Assembly Learning Grant of up to £2,906 but also benefit from the Welsh Bursary Scheme (WBS). This bursary is available to every full-time student, regardless of their UK country of origin, provided that they sign the “consent to share” part of the application form. Although Welsh students going to English universities are not eligible for the WBS, they will be considered for bursaries offered by their chosen universities in England. The Welsh Bursary is means-tested and will be worth a minimum of £338 a year.
The Maintenance Grant in Scotland is called a Young Students’ Bursary (and is paid in monthly instalments) and, like all the other grants mentioned, it is means-tested and does not have to be repaid. This replaces part of your Maintenance Loan and hence reduces the amount of loan you need to take out. The maximum bursary available is £2,640 if your family annual income is under £19,310. At higher incomes, the bursary decreases on a sliding scale until at £34,195 and beyond it is zero. There is an Additional Loan of up to £785 if your family income is £22,789 or less.