Funding Studying Abroad

Making the decision to study overseas is one thing. Working out how you're going to pay for it is where the real challenge begins.

Exchange programmes

The most affordable way to get a taste of university life abroad is via an exchange programme, where students are enrolled in a British university degree but take part of their course overseas. Students remain eligible for student loans in the UK and may even be able to access grants to help with their costs. One of the best-known exchange schemes is the Erasmus programme, an initiative of the European Union that is run by the British Council in the UK. Over 200,000 UK students have studied or worked abroad through the Erasmus programme since its inception in 1987. 14,600 UK students went abroad with Erasmus in 2014/15.

As well as whatever maintenance loans they are eligible for at home, as it stands Erasmus participants also receive a grant from the European Commission to cover the additional costs arising from living abroad. This varies from €250 (£215) to €370 (£315) per month depending on the country they are studying in.

Students do not have to pay any tuition fees to the international university and at present the fees due to their UK institution are also waived for the period they are away, providing the study period is a full academic year of 24 weeks. So in effect, a year abroad on the Erasmus programme could actually save you a whole year’s tuition as well as provide you with valuable global exposure. Not all courses are suitable for this programme, however, so check with your institution (or proposed institution) in the first case. ISEP runs an exchange programme that may be more suitable for those looking to study further afield than Europe.

Applying independently

For individuals who want to take an entire degree overseas, the financial situation becomes a bit more difficult. Student loans are not available via the Student Loans Company for students who plan to study outside the UK.

Most EU countries do have some type of scheme that provides loans and financial aid to students, however these are not usually open to students from other member states. EU rules state that students from other member states are entitled to access universities for the same tuition fees as domestic students, but countries are not obliged to provide financial assistance on the same basis unless individuals have been living in the country for at least five years prior to beginning study.

In some European countries, however, there is some support available to students from other EU member states. In the Netherlands, for example, student loans will cover the full cost of tuition and non-repayable grants are also available for those in part-time employment. In Italy, student loans are available to EU students on the same basis as they are to home students, although these are based on both merit and means-testing and don’t cover as broad a range of people as the loans system in the UK.

While tuition itself is free in some EU countries, prospective students can often find themselves with no way of funding their living expenses. The Scandinavian countries present a good example of the funding dilemma many students face — on the one hand there are no tuition fees in Denmark, Finland, Norway or Sweden, but on the other hand, these are notoriously expensive places to live and a significant sum of money will be needed for living costs.

One option for those choosing these countries, or other EU members states with low fees, such as France, is to self-fund their study with part-time work. Students are usually allowed to work while studying, although finding jobs can be difficult for those without local language skills. Some students choose instead to work during breaks in the UK to save up the funds necessary for their living costs while abroad.

Another option is to take out a personal loan from a UK bank to fund your studies, although unlike a student loan, repayments will become due immediately and interest will begin accruing as soon as you access the loan.

In countries outside the EU, such as Australia or the United States, students will not be able to access any form of financial aid and will usually also have to pay higher fees than domestic students. These fees will also need to be paid upfront. Although tuition expenses are higher than in Europe, living costs are broadly comparable and students are likely to find it easier to find part-time employment to help with living costs in English-speaking countries.

As a student you aren’t always entitled to work while studying in a non-EU country, so it’s worth checking out what kind of work you’ll be allowed to do and what type of extra permission you need when considering foreign study destinations.


Another option for funding overseas study is scholarships. There are scholarships available to those looking to study abroad but competition is fierce, particularly at undergraduate level. These can be awarded on merit or need and vary in the level of assistance provided.

In the US, universities award about 1,000 scholarships to foreign students each year, ranging from partial scholarships to what’s called a “full-ride”, where all of a student’s tuition fees and expenses are covered. The website Funding for US Study is a useful resource.

Some universities in other countries also offer scholarships to international students and students should consult the individual websites of institutions they are interested in attending to find out what, if any, schemes they may be eligible to apply for. It’s also worth searching the databases at InternationalScholarships.com and ScholarshipPortal.eu.

As well as individual university scholarships, there are also some organisations in the UK that administer scholarships that allow UK students to study abroad. These include the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom and Rotary International.