Students in Scotland

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In This Guide

  • Is Scottish Education Free?
  • Degrees in Scotland
  • General Eligibility
  • SAAS Student Loan
  • Bursaries
  • When to Apply
  • Other Grants and Help
  • Paying Back
  • More Help Available

While there are a number of bodies set up to support students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland when it comes to finance, the way in which Scotland undertakes fees and financing for learners is quite different. It’s therefore very important to make sure you know exactly what’s expected of you – and what’s available – should you wish to study here and receive financial support.

Is Scottish Education Free?

It’s a slight misnomer that all education in Scotland is free of charge all of the time – Scottish-born students and those from the European Union can study without charge, but if you are from elsewhere in the UK, you may be subject to fees of up to £9,250. This means that you will need to contact the Student Awards Agency for Scotland, or SAAS, for financial support – and for those born in Scotland, there are also maintenance options available to cover the cost of living.

To be able to get tuition fees covered for free, you will need to have been a permanent resident in Scotland (or ‘ordinarily resident’) for some time – as guidelines state, as of the first day of your first academic year. It can get rather tricky!

You won’t have to pay off any loans you receive until you are earning enough – and in Scotland, you’ll have your debts written off after 35 years. This stands at 30 years for students from elsewhere in the UK. Therefore, student finance in Scotland is a mixed bag! Do bear in mind that international students outside the UK and the EU may need to pay more for fees – so do be careful.

Degrees in Scotland

There’s no distinction between undergraduate and postgraduate financing in Scotland as their degrees last four years and you will effectively stand to graduate with a Master’s degree. This can mean that costs can escalate for non-Scottish and non-EU students, meaning that to save money, you may wish to look into an accelerated course – though this will mean a lot of learning crammed into a relatively short period of time.

General Eligibility

Beyond the idea of Scottish education being free for some and not for others, you are going to need to have been resident in the UK for at least three years before you apply for any kind of funding – should you wish to be accepted. You’re also going to need to be a Scottish resident by choice, though asylum seekers, refugees and certain dependants may be eligible to apply, too. You’ll also only be able to seek funding if it is your first degree.

Fees are waived completely for Scottish-born students and those who live permanently in the country – tuition is covered in its entirety by the government, and largely, you won’t be expected to pay anything covered by the government back at a later date. EU students, too, receive the same deal – this is certainly the case until the UK leaves the EU, meaning that certain terms may change along the way. For now, at least, the Scottish finance system remains open to supporting EU students – regardless of what may be set to occur in the coming months.

SAAS Student Loan

The Student Loan available from the SAAS will cover you for living costs – and you may not even have to supply details on your household income unless you wish to, and it is recommended you do if you wish to receive your maximum potential. You could receive a minimum of £4,750 per year, and this, again, will be repayable in increments once you are earning enough per annum – as deductions will be made to your monthly invoices. This type of loan is particularly useful for those who may be studying in Scotland for the first time – and for those studying from elsewhere in the UK and/or abroad – as fees for tuition alone will also need to be taken into account in those cases, too.

It’s a good idea to start looking into how to budget effectively if you are studying and living away from home for the first time – university is the first step towards adult independence for many people and, to this end, it’s a major milestone regardless of the courses you may be studying. Student loans and bursaries are available to help facilitate your transition into independence – so it’s always worthwhile applying and taking advantage of whatever you may be eligible to apply for.


Loans aren’t the only form of financial support available in Scotland, meaning that you could be entitled to extra bursaries depending on your circumstances and household income. You’ll either be classed as a Young Student (under the age of 25 and unmarried) or as an Independent Student (over 25) – if you’re the latter, you will receive £875 per year providing you earn less than £18,999 annually. These bursaries are based on the student loan you receive, too.

Young Students could receive up to £1,875 from an annual bursary if they have a household income of less than £18,999. If between £19,000 and £23,999, you could receive £1,125 – and if between, £24,000 and £33,999, £500. If your household income is over £34,000, you could receive the princely sum of £40 per year!

When to Apply

As always, it’s recommended that you apply sooner rather than later. You don’t have to wait for exam results to apply to SAAS, but do make sure you do so by the end of March the year after your course begins – it’s recommended you get in touch by the end of the June before, in any case, to make sure you’re covered. You’re going to need to file an application each and every year you study should you wish to benefit.

Other Grants and Help

Beyond the standard loans and grants, there are also allowances available for certain students with certain circumstances. If you are responsible for children or other adults, for example, or if you are disabled, you may be able to receive certain grants which are non-repayable. There’s also a specific Nursing and Midwifery bursary available for related courses. In any case, it is always worth researching various public bodies, charities, educational institutions and more besides for scholarships and financial bursaries.

Paying Back

As with loans elsewhere in the UK, you will be expected to pay back Scottish loans once you are earning over a specific amount, and following your graduation from your specific course. If you’re covered completely by the SAAS, you won’t need to worry – as there’s nothing to repay – but if you’ve received a tuition fee or maintenance loan, you are going to need to start repaying the money you have borrowed from the April after you have graduated. Providing you earn more than £18,330 each year, you will notice a slight deduction in your monthly wage (if on payroll) and you will need to make an additional payment on your tax return, if applicable, under Plan 1. Plan 1 essentially means that you’ll be subject to interest of 1.5% per year – which gets added on each year until your loan(s) are completely repaid.

Do bear in mind, again, that if your loan is not repaid after 35 years, it will be wiped – if you are a Scottish student. If you are from elsewhere in the UK, it will be wiped after 30 years of accruing. You can also choose to pay more than the minimum requested amount each month where you prefer – though if you are paid on a salaried basis, you may wish to continue paying back on a deduction basis for the sake of ease.

More Help Available

Funding education in Scotland is similar to elsewhere in the UK in the sense that the same things will still need paying for – your course and your living expenses – and it is important to look past the misconception that all study in Scotland is free all of the time.

Financial assistance is available to all who wish to study here regardless of your nationality or residential status, however, meaning that whether you contact the SAAS directly, your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau or the institution you are set to study at, you could find yourself fully funded without much effort.

It’s important to speak with the admissions office of the institution you are set to study at if you have any specific questions regarding applying for funding for study in Scotland – and public forums and help guides from the likes of The Student Room, which have been operating online for several years now, will help you to navigate the idea of the cost of living and what’s expected from you, financially, once you enrol.

It’s also important to remember that you can still approach SAAS for support some time after your course has started – but in our opinion, and in many other opinions, you are going to need to make sure that your requests are filed and in as early as possible if you wish to take full advantage of potential financing available.