Students in Northern Ireland
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In This Guide
- Undergraduate Finance
- Postgraduate Finance
- Further Education
- When You Should Apply
- Supporting Applications
- Repaying Loans
- More Information
If you are aiming to study in Northern Ireland – whether on a full-time or on a part-time basis – there is financial help which can be at hand. Student Finance Northern Ireland, or Student Finance NI, is responsible for helping to provide loans to a variety of different learners across the country at various stages of their education.
For both Further Education (college) and Higher Education (university and equivalent), you can apply for loans to cover both the cost of your tuition and your living expenses. You can also get help with the cost of postgraduate study, too – and you can apply for all financial help online with Student Finance NI.
Support for undergraduates attending university for the first time is available for both UK and ROI nationals, providing you have been resident in Northern Ireland for at least three years at the time of your application being made. You may also apply for finance if you are an EU national or if you are registered as stateless or a refugee – though these circumstances will be analysed on a case-by-case basis.
You can apply for a tuition fee loan to cover the cost of your study in Northern Ireland, a maintenance loan to help cover the cost of your living expenses, or even a maintenance or support grant – these are non-repayable, and may be available to certain prospective students.
Maintenance loans here can be dependent upon your income or otherwise – though it’s stated that you may stand to receive more in help with the cost of living if you supply details of your household income. If you live with parents or a partner, their details will be taken into account as supporting your application.
There is also further advice and support available for disabled students studying at undergraduate level, as well as there being childcare grants, dependency grants and even travel grants available – Student Finance NI will also help to support those students wishing to learn within the ROI, too. There are full guides available online with more information.
Postgraduates return to study once they have finished their undergraduate courses – and for those wishing to undertake doctorates or similar which require extensive funding, UK, ROI and EU nationals may be able to obtain tuition fee loans and disabled allowances.
You will need to apply with the loans company and supply certain details to be able to qualify for certain help – and the same terms and conditions for residency and status will apply as with postgraduate students.
For those students attending college between the ages of 16 and 19, there is also the Education Maintenance Allowance, or EMA. EMA was previously offered to other UK students but has since been streamlined – Northern Ireland students, however, can still apply for £30 a week, supplied on a fortnightly basis – and providing you are an EU, ROI national, a refugee or are ‘settled’ in the UK, you may be able to benefit regularly. It is always worth discussing financing and maintenance options available to you with your college admissions team and with the Student Finance NI team to ensure that you are set to be fully covered.
Budgeting for yourself for the first time largely happens once you have left school – and financing and maintenance support is available to not only provide you with financial care, but also to ensure that you have the means and the tools available to effectively plan your budgets ahead of time.
Budgeting for expenses and bills are a major part of independence – and these grants and loans are all offered to students in an effort to help them maintain this independence. Never be afraid to ask for financial help – if it is available, you should always apply and check for eligibility!
When You Should Apply
It’s recommended that you apply as soon as possible for financial support once you know that you are set to undertake a particular course. You won’t need to have confirmation of your place – but to set the ball rolling, you must either apply online or apply via form if you are set to be an undergraduate studying in Northern Ireland from the European Union.
The exact deadlines for financial support applications vary from course to course, as it is all largely based on when your studies are due to begin. As this can vary from institution to institution and from level to level, it’s a good idea to take note of the final deadline so that you don’t miss out on any essential financial help you may require.
If your course is due to begin as of 1st August or by 31st December, you will need to have filed your application with Student Finance NI to ensure that you will be covered for your prospective studies by the 31st May of that same year. This will give the systems involved plenty of time to make sure that you receive the financial support you need.
If your course is staggered further back and isn’t due to start until between the 1st January and 31st March of the next year, you’ll need to have your application ready and filed by 30th September.
In some cases, you may find courses that won’t start until between 1st April and 30th June. This isn’t a problem if you’re applying for finance – simply have your application in by 31st December of the year before and you will be covered in plenty of time.
If your course is due to take place between 1st and 31st July, you’ll need to have applied for finance by 31st March to be able to fully qualify. Do take note of these dates wherever possible!
For maintenance loan applications, you may need to submit some information relating to your existing household income. This means that you will need to request that your parent(s) or partner be willing to forward details to the student loans team to ensure that your claim for maintenance funding can be fully supported.
Maintenance loans are based on income for the previous tax year – meaning that anyone supporting your application as a student will need to be willing and ready to supply income data for the year running up to your study if you wish to benefit as much as possible from finance available.
Do be aware that anyone supporting your application won’t be expected to pay back your loan for you – this becomes your responsibility the moment that your application is accepted and your funds are available. Do also be aware that you will need to reapply for finance each year you study, meaning that your parents and/or partner will need to consent to supplying further income data for the years to follow where necessary.
While it may be tempting to simply consider how you could be set to spend the loan you’ve received, it is always a good idea to consider as and when your loan will be due to be paid back.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you will likely be registered on Plan 2 if your study has begun after 1st September 2012, and if you have received tuition fee and/or maintenance loans in this time frame. This type of loan has been brought in to replace Plan 1, and as such, it is accounted for when it comes to loan repayments across PAYE and tax returns alike. Plan 1 is only still used in Scotland – where the finance system is altogether rather different to elsewhere in the UK.
You won’t be expected to start paying back any loans you have received until the April after you graduate from or finish your course – meaning that you won’t need to worry about the feedback from your funding until this time. You will, however, be subject to a levy on any wages you receive once you earn over £25,000 per year – meaning that you will notice a deduction in your wage 9% above the threshold if registered on PAYE, and you’ll need to pay the same if you submit a tax return each year if self-employed or otherwise.
What’s also important to note about Plan 2 loan repayments is the fact that your loans will be subject to 3% interest each year at the least – this may go up as you earn more, but you will be able to bear witness to regular statements via post or email so that you are always kept up to speed on how much you have left to repay.
More information on applying for student finance in Northern Ireland is available from institutions that are running such courses, The Student Room website, and also from GOV.UK. Northern Ireland is in a particularly interesting position at present as they currently allow funding for students from the UK, the EU and ROI – providing you have been resident in Northern Ireland for an extensive period. With these points in mind, you’ll easily be able to find funding.