Grants, Bursaries, Scholarships, and University Finance Explained

Grants, Bursaries, Scholarships, and University Finance Explained

Posted in Money Matters, Widening Participation on Mar 31, 2020 by

University Finder

With headlines screaming that the average graduate leaves university with over £50,000 in debt, it's understandable that some of you may be worried about financing university, but there's plenty of ways to finance your studies.


The Student Loans Company provides students with financial support so they can go to university regardless of their financial background. They offer students the opportunity to get a tuition fee and maintenance loan.

The tuition fee loan is available to all students, and is paid directly to the university in three installments throughout the year. The maintainence loan is means tested and takes into account your parents' income. It's assumed that your parents will support you at university,

Student Finance England provides students with financial support so they can go to university no matter what their financial background is. They offer students the opportunity to get a tuition fee and a maintenance loan. Student finance is calculated based on parental income and assumes that the parents will help finance university, this isn't always the case. If your loan doesn't cover your rent and living expenses there's still lots of options available to you.

Estranged Students

If parent support is not an option as you’re estranged from parents you can still get a loan. You’ll be classed as an independent applicant and the assessment depends on your income rather than your parents. Charities such as Stand Alone can provide you with information and help during the application process.


Before applying to university it's a good idea to visit universities to explore the campus, see the facilities, tour the accommodation, and speaking to current university students and lecturers.

The cost of travelling to different universities around the country can pose a barrier to higher education before even getting to university. High travel costs can result in students only applying to universities close to them or applying to universities they haven't visited. Lots of universities are realising that more needs to be done to help students and their families attend open days.

Some universities offer travel bursaries for students travelling to their prospective open days. The bursary may be awarded as a flat rate or in proportion to the distance travelled. The bursary may be paid in cash on the open day, or may be in the form of discounted public transport travel.

A few universities allow you to stay in the university accomodation overnight before the open day if you're travelling from far away, this can either be for free like the University of Sheffield or for a reduced rate like the University of Cambridge, Pembroke.

Find out which universities offer travel bursaries and reduced accomodation rates here.


Grants are non-repayable sums of money awarded for a variety of reasons. Universities offer grants to students, as do private companies.

Private Grants

Lots of private companies award grants but you do have to go looking for them, they tend not to be well publicised. Think about what you're good at or is unique about you, are you a talented muscian?, do you play sports? Whatever you're good at you're sure to find a grant you can apply to.

Schooling location

There are some private scholarships and grants for students who undertook their education in a specific location. Check with your local authority to see if there are any grants available to university students.

For example there is a grant for students who are studying a degree course at a British university who completed the majority of their secondary education at a school or college in Pembrokshire, Wales. The Port of Milford Haven offers four undergraduate awards of £1500 and an expenses paid placement at the Port over the summer holidays where you can explore the range of business functions at the Port – engineering, finance, marketing & PR, property & tourism, marine, and environmental management.

Your Parents' Jobs

You can get a bursary/grant depending on the sector your parents work in. Companies and charities have set up hundreds of grants to support the children of their employees, and to encourage them to pursue higher education.

For example:

The Leverhulme Charity bursary offers up to £3000 for university students in financial need whose parent or spouse is a pharmacist, grocer, or commercial traveler.

Armed Forces Education Trust offers a means tested grant to students in their 2nd and 3rd years at university whose parents have served/serves in the armed forces.

Where can you find grants?

Turn2Us are a great resource for grants. You can search for grants available in your local area and narrow down criteria based on location, gender, income, employment status, health conditions, etc.


University Bursaries

Most universities offer students with lower household incomes the opportunity to receive a non-repayable means tested grant, the grants can be on a first come first served basis so make sure to research the bursaries your university offers asap.

The bursaries are sometimes automatically awarded based on the information you provide student finance. For example, The Leeds Financial Support Award is calculated based on Student Finance's assessments, you can sometimes choose to receive bursaries as a cash bursary, or a discount on university fees or accomodation. When applying for student finance you will be asked if you give consent for the SLC to share your household income with the universities – say yes – you never know what they might award you.

Commuter Bursary

If you're living at home and commuting to university you may be able to get support to help with travel costs. This differs depending on the university and how far away you live. For example the University of Greenwich's Commuter Bursary up to £500 a year for students from lower income households.

Bursary Based On Your Parents' Jobs

Some universities offer an additional bursary depening on your parents job.

The University of Greenwich offers students with a household income of under £40,000 whose parents are serving/have served for the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines for a minimum of three years.


Bursaries are available to help with tuition fees and living costs for certain degrees such as:

NHS Courses: If you’re studying to be a doctor or a dentist you may be eligible for an annual payment for your study and living costs. Find out more here.

Teaching: If you're interested in teaching there are lots of bursaries and scholarships available. Some are subject specific, some are general. Find out more here.

Social Work: Social work bursaries are available to students studying social work degrees at university. In order to be eligible students must be studying an approved social work course and meet criteria regarding residency and Students must meet set criteria regarding residency. Criteria varies depending on the specific UK country. Find out more here.

Languages: Some universities offer scholarships for studying in a particular language. For example, The Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol offers 150 scholarships for undergraduate students who will be studying through the medium of Welsh. The Scholarships are worth £3,000 over three years and are available to Welsh language students.


Scholarships are non-repayable sums of money awarded for a variety of reasons, they can be awarded as cash or as a fee waiver.

Hobby/Skills Scholarship

Universities don't only award scholarships for academic achivements, your interests and hobbies outside of the classroom could bag you a scholarship. Scholarships are available to students gifted in sports, music, arts, and many other skills.

For example:

The University of Roehampton offer a scholarship to talented e-sports players. The scholarship consists of £1,500 each year and the cost of travel and entry to competitions. There are 20 scholarships going each year to skilled players in League of Legends, Overwatch, and lots of other games. Find out more here.

Exter Cathedral Choir offer a £3500 a year scholarship to talented students who join their choir.

Liverpool University offers scholarships towards rend/tuition for non-music students who are strong instrumentalists or vocalists.

Academic Scholarships

Lots of universities offer academic based scholarships for students based on their A-Level grades. These can be for excellence in general or subject specific excellence. Most of the time you have to apply for these scholarships before you get your final grades. Even if you're not 100% sure you're going to get the required grades for the scholarship, there's no harm in applying, you never know!

Gender-based Scholarships

Lots of universities offer scholarships for students studying subjects with underrepresented genders to help increase representation. For example, Coventry University offers UK female undergraduate engineers the Linda Benfield Scholarship of £1,000 a year.

Needs-based Scholarships

Extra support is available to students based on household income. Some universities call them scholarships others call them bursaries so be sure to research both. These scholarships are non-repayable and terms vary depending on the university.

University Charities, Trusts, and Foundations

Often universities will have specific funding and scholarships available to their students, funded by notable alumni. For example, graduate of Keele University, Philip Soar, has set up bursares to support students from a similar background to himself so they can make the most of their time at Keele University.


If you're struggling for finance once you're at university there are lots of options available to you and ways for you to reduce your costs.

  • Food Pantry: Lots of universities have food pantrys for students in financial need, such as at Leeds Beckett.
  • Medical costs: If you're a student who needs medication and are struggling to cover the costs of it you can apply for a certicate which waives the fees. This is means tested, and more information can be found here. If you need multiple prescriptions each month consider buying a prepayment certificate, this allows you to get unlimited prescriptions for the duration of your certificate.
  • If concerns about money are having a detrimental impact on your university work and mental health you may be able to qualify for extenuating circumstances. The university might be able to extend your deadlines and provide you with extra support and tutoring if it’s making you fall behind in class. You will usually need to prove it’s out of your control and having a siginifcant ability on your avility to study.

Hardship Funds

As a last resort (do not factor this into your budget), universities offer hardship funds for students in trouble (Access to Learning Funds). If you've managed your finances responsibly and already accessed all funds available to you e.g. have a student loan you may be able to access a hardship fund to support your studies. To apply go to your university’s student support team, they will go over your bank statements and bills with you to draw up an action plan. The amount you get is decided by your university and can be paid in a lump sum or in installments, this is usually non-repayable.

Scholarships Dependent on Grades AT University

Some offer scholarships and awards if you achive certain grades in your university coursework and exams. Some are based on overall academic peformance like the University of Brighton merit scholarships, and some are module specific, such as The AA Sherrard Prize at Queens University Belfast for whichever student gains the highest mark in the assessment of the module “Land Law” in the LLB programme.

Emergency Short Term Loans From the University

If you are in dire need of finance and have exausted all options available to you (Student Finance, your student overdraft, savings, any bursaries or grants you're receiving), you may be able to apply for an emergency short term loan from your university. These loans tend to be interest free and usually need to be repaid. All loans have terms and conditions, some universities allow you to use the loan towards rent, others only allow you to use it for day to day living expenses.

If you are struggling with finance speak to your university's student union.

e.g. Brighton University offer students who are in a temporary crisis and can't pay for day to day expenses like food an travel to university a short term repayable loan.