Funding higher level learning

Don’t be put off by the bad news about higher fees – there is some good news as well! Changes were made in September 2012 to the costs of higher learning and the financial help available to learners. There has been a lot of publicity about this and it can be very confusing.

One of the changes that will benefit union members who do not have a degree or equivalent is the introduction of student loans for part-time learners to cover the fees. If you do not earn more than £21,000, you may not have to pay this back.

If you are a part-time learner, you will still have to find your living costs, but there may be bursaries and other financial help available to assist with travel, childcare and the cost of learning materials and resources.

What happened in 2012?

  • What does your higher learning cost after the changes made in September 2012?
  • Are all universities charging £9,000 a year?
  • Does it depend on where and how you learn?
  • Can you get a discount if you are a union member?
  • Can you get any financial help?
  • What happens if you are a part-time learner?
  • When will you have to pay back loans and how much will you have to pay?

You may be wanting the answers to these questions for your own progression or if you are a Union Learning Rep (ULR), you may be helping your members to get to grips with the new system, to calculate repayments or to fill in application forms.

Get some personalised information and advice

You and your ULR can work out the basics of what your course will cost, and what help you might be entitled to using the resources on the websites below, but there is plenty of free expert advice available and you should always check that you haven’t missed anything by getting some help.

If you would like to discuss your own requirements and situation with an impartial adviser in confidence, call the National Careers Service (NCS) on 0800 100 900, free from a landline, or visit the National Careers Service for details of other ways to make contact.

If you know which university or college you want to study at, there will be a financial adviser who can help you to work out your costs, and eligibility for grants, loans and bursaries, many of which will be specific to the institution. Every case will be different so it is always worth getting some personal advice.

Don’t forget to check with your union, and unionlearn regional staff, to see if there are any discounts or collective learning funds that might help you, or if it is possible to set these up.

If you are thinking of studying with the Open University, they have an information page with links to a video about funding options. You can also call their financial support office for advice on 01908 653411 (Mon-Thur 8.30-5.30, Fri 8.30-5.00) or email: [email protected].

General information and video guides

The best way to get accurate up to date general information is to use the government website, Student Finance England, which has produced a series of short films about funding your study, including one for part-time learners:


If you decide you might be eligible for a student loan, you can also use the GOV.UK student loan calculator.

The other good source of information, easy to use guides and myth-busting is the Students website set up by Martin Lewis. Martin has been asked to set up a Task Force to ensure that clear information is available to learners.

On the website, you can find:

The Money Advice Service also has useful information about student finance.