This article covers the three major types of financial support you can get as a student.
As of 2012, if a university charges tuition fees of over £6,000 per year, they are obliged to offer financial assistance to students from lower income backgrounds. Many universities, and some charities, offer regular sources of funding to students based on other factors, such as academic excellence, sporting prowess or musicianship.
Lots of universities offer fee waivers to attract students to their courses. A fee waiver pays part (or occasionally all) of a student’s tuition fees, thus reducing the amount of money they need to borrow as part of their student loan. Fee waivers are getting increasingly common, but many people think that bursaries are better for students, as they get the money straight away and it has an immediate impact on their quality of life.
Fee waivers, on the other hand, reduce the total amount of money that the individual borrows in the form of their student loan, but this might not actually make any real difference to them long-term. A student who’s been offered a fee waiver will have a smaller debt to repay when they graduate, but as the amount you repay is based on how much you earn, not how much you owe, and you stop paying after 30 years no matter how much debt you have left, if you never earn a high salary you mightn’t ever benefit from a fee waiver.
A bursary is money paid up front to a student, usually by their university, or sometimes by a charity. A bursary is intended to support a student with low income by contributing to their living costs, or to pay for books or equipment they need whilst they study. The National Scholarship Programme also offers bursaries of up to £1,000 in cash to students whose household income is less than £25,000 per year. If a student is given a bursary, they will see the immediate benefits in an improvement to their bank balance and living standards.
Generally speaking, taking a bursary is more likely to be of concrete benefit to you, because you know that you’ll be seeing the direct affects of the financial help. If you don’t earn the average graduate salary or more throughout your working life, you’re unlikely to have to pay back your loan, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever see the benefits of a fee waiver.
Scholarships are like bursaries, in the sense that you get given the money up front to support you during your studies. The major difference is that scholarships are aimed at students with excellent academic records, whereas a bursary is designed to support students from low-income families.