UK tuition fees are frequently under the media spotlight, following price hikes for home students (UK/EU) in recent years, including the latest news that English universities will charge home/EU students up to £9,250 (~US$11,380) per year from autumn 2017.
International undergraduate tuition fees vary considerably, starting at around £10,000 (~US$12,300) and going up to £35,000 (~US$43,100) or more for medical degrees. At all levels, humanities and social sciences degrees tend to cost the least, while laboratory and clinical degree programs are markedly more expensive.
Combine these fees with the average cost of living in the UK, around £12,000 (~$14,750), and the total average cost of studying in the UK comes up to at least £22,000 (~$27,040) per year. Studying in the capital city, meanwhile, is likely to be significantly more expensive.
While these costs may be daunting, remember that most UK universities offer shorter programs compared to countries such as the US (three years for the average undergraduate degree instead of four, and one year for a master’s degree instead of two), so you may be able to subtract a year's worth of fees and living costs from your total budget!
Students’ cost of living in the UK
According to the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS), the average annual cost of living in England (outside of London) for students is UK£12,056 (~US$14,800). Most students will spend around £150 (~US$180) per month on food and groceries, or £1,350 (~US$1,660) per academic year.
If you wish to study in London, you should expect to pay £15,180 (~US$18,700) per year for the same breakdown of goods and services. The biggest difference in the cost of living in London compared to the rest of England is in rent, with University College London (UCL) estimating accommodation expenses of £8,034 (~US$9,900) per academic year (nine months). However, you may be able to find more affordable accommodation in university halls or a flat share.
As the NUS points out, the figures for the rest of England can only be used as a rough guide to the overall cost of living in the UK. But they are roughly consistent with the amounts specified by the UK Border Agency (UKBA), which asks international students to provide evidence that they can afford to live and study in the UK for a specified period before being granted a Tier 4 (General) student visa.
For visa purposes, international students undertaking study in London must budget £1,265 (~US$1,550) for each month of stay, while those who study outside of London will have to show £1,015 (~US$1,250) per month in order to prove they can cover the cost of living in the UK.
UK tuition fees – UK/EU students
There are two levels of tuition fees at publicly funded UK universities: home student fees (including EU students) and international student fees. For home students, institutions in England can charge up to a maximum of £9,250 (~US$11,370) per year for undergraduate degree programs, and in Wales up to £9,000 (~US$11,050). In Northern Ireland the limit is £3,925 (US$4,830) for EU and Northern Irish students, and up to £9,250 for students from the rest of the UK.
In Scotland an undergraduate degree is effectively free for students from Scotland and the EU. This is thanks to a subsidy from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). The SAAS also offers a tuition fee loan of up to £3,400 (~US$4,170) for home postgraduate students.
It should be noted that the Scottish definition of “home” student differs slightly, in that it doesn’t include students from the rest of the UK – i.e. England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Students from the rest of the UK who want to undertake an undergraduate degree in Scotland will pay up to £9,250 a year.
There’s also good news for students from Wales, who only need to pay £3,900 (~US$4,800) per year in UK tuition fees to study anywhere in the UK, with the rest covered by the Welsh government.
Postgraduate tuition fees vary significantly, depending on the university and the subject. Home students may be able to receive some funding from one of the UK’s research councils, the university itself, or via a career sponsorship scheme.
UK tuition fees – international students
For international students, undergraduate fees for 2016/17 started at around £10,000 (US$12,300) for lecture-based courses, going up to £35,000 (~US$43,060) or more for an undergraduate medical degree at the top of the price range.
At postgraduate level, international fees for classroom-based programs in 2016/17 started at £9,700 (~US$11,930) and went up to £32,000 (~US$39,350). For laboratory-based programs, average annual fees vary from £9,900 (~US$12,180) up to £25,000 (~US$30,800), while for clinical degree programs the annual fees start at around £11,250 (~US$13,900) and are as high as £42,000 (~US$51,700) for programs such as medicine.
UK scholarships and student funding
Home (UK/EU) students are eligible for loans, grants and other forms of funding to cover their UK tuition fees, with differing amounts of funding depending on location. While student loans for home students tend to cover all tuition fees, the additional loan to cover the cost of living in the UK often falls short of the amount actually needed – the maximum living loan in the 2017-2018 academic year is UK£8,430 (~$10,400) for students outside London and up to £11,002 (~US$13,560) for those who study in London.
Undergraduate home students at private UK universities (there are only three) can still apply for tuition fee loans for most courses, as well as maintenance loans and maintenance grants. However, the tuition fee loan might not cover the full amount.
A large range of scholarships to study in the UK are also offered by the government, individual universities, independent organizations and various charities. The Education UK website provides a searchable database of 3,000 scholarships for international and home students. It is also worth checking to see what scholarships and support schemes are available from the government and other organizations in your own country.
Prominent UK scholarships for international students include:
- Chevening Scholarships – Government-funded UK scholarships open to outstanding students with leadership potential from around the world, to study at postgraduate level at accredited UK universities.
- Marshall Scholarships – Scholarships for high-achieving US students to study in the UK.
- Commonwealth Scholarships and fellowships – UK scholarships offered by member governments to citizens of other Commonwealth countries.
UK scholarships are more widely available at postgraduate level, with relatively few offered for undergraduate students. However, always check with your chosen university, as support is often available for exceptional undergraduate students.
For a longer list of prominent international scholarships to study in the UK, see this article.
What impact will Brexit have?
The UK’s decision to exit the European Union (Brexit) means many EU students are concerned that their tuition fees could increase. Many UK universities have pledged to keep tuition fees fixed at the same rate for current EU students for the duration of their course. It’s also been confirmed that EU students enrolling at English and Welsh universities in autumn 2017 will remain eligible for the same financial aid throughout their course, regardless of when the UK actually leaves the EU. Likewise, the Scottish government has confirmed that EU students undertaking an undergraduate program in Scotland in the 2017/2018 academic year will be charged no tuition fees throughout their course.
This article was originally published in October 2013. It was updated in March 2015 and again in January 2017.
Want more content like this? Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.