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University Bursaries and Scholarships

The government wants to ensure individuals are not deterred from coming to universities because of lack of funds.

  • Bursaries and scholarships refer to financial help in addition to student loans and grants – the money does not have to be paid back. The terms 'bursary' and 'scholarship' are used interchangeably and each university has its own terminology.

For a summary (listed by university) of the types of bursaries and scholarships available, check out our Bursary & Scholarship grids.

Where to obtain more information

  • Wales – universities have been required to submit Access Agreements outlining what fees they intend to levy and how they plan to widen access. The nearest equivalents in Wales are the Fee Plans submitted by each university to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.
  • Scotland – Scotland has a totally different fees regime to the rest of the UK and students entering Scottish universities from Scotland or the non-UK EU may apply to the SAAS to have their fees paid. To this extent, there is no need in Scotland for the bursaries, scholarships and fee waiver packages which have been required by Government through OFFA in England. 
  • However, from 2012–13 students attending university in Scotland who are from the rest of the UK (RUK) have had to pay a variable tuition fee up to a maximum of £9,000 (mirroring tuition fees set elsewhere in the UK).
  • Correspondingly, a new range of bursaries and scholarships and fee waivers has been put in place by Scottish univerisites for these students in the hope that, as in the rest of the UK, eligible students will not be deterred from attending university because of the cost.

A significant feature of all these rather complex documents is a description of the new bursaries and scholarships available.

  • Some are guaranteed and are based on your personal circumstances whilst others are available through open competition.

These are really important to readers of this Complete University Guide; as OFFA suggests that some 400,000 students are likely to benefit.

  • The Access Agreements contain much other helpful information for would-be university applicants and copies of all of them can be found on the OFFA website.
  • You are strongly encouraged to read those of particular interest to you.
  • Some Access Agreements specifically mention that the university has a Hardship Fund or runs a Job Shop to help you find local employment, but you should not assume that this is unique. Most universities have these now but have chosen not to highlight them to OFFA. The University Profiles each contain information on the availability of part-time work and of a Job Shop.

We must also emphasise that these bursaries and scholarships are often targeted at specific groups and hence the list is by no means comprehensive.

  • The Bursaries & Scholarships grids summarise this particular government initiative aimed principally – but not exclusively – at students from low-income families, but universities have always offered a small number of bursaries and scholarships to undergraduates.
  • If sport is your forte, see the BUCS University Sports Table which includes a summary of BUCS institutions offering sports scholarships, together with the sporting facilities on offer.
  • If you are interested in the full range on offer, you will need to consult the websites of the individual universities (our University Profiles contain the relevant links). Some have even produced booklets with listings and there are invariably references to university awards in the prospectuses. Even this is not the whole story because there is nothing to stop a university enhancing the offers made in its Access Agreement with OFFA. What it cannot do is lower the offer.

The message has to be 'watch this space' and to urge you to look at the relevant prospectuses and websites (including UCAS) when you come to apply to universities.

  • If that turns out to be at Clearing be particularly watchful because there have been suggestions that some universities might reduce fees or increase bursaries in August to fill their places.

Our general advice on university bursaries and scholarships is to read the small print on any headline offers, and choose the right university for you, not because it may offer you £500 more a year. 

  • Course and university choice is paramount.
  • It is also worth noting that universities charge different amounts for facilities such as accommodation, sports and societies, internet access, etc, so check the total package, including any extras you may be charged over the year.
  • It is generally the case that offers of scholarships and bursaries are largely the same from most universities but some are better than others about grabbing headlines or have lots of conditions attached (e.g. family income, A level grades, sporting prowess, living in a certain postcode district).

What you need to do

All of this argues for a great deal of help and advice.

  • All universities now provide web-based (see the University Profiles) or hard copy (see their prospectus) information, even help-lines in some cases.
  • In addition, most universities deploy support staff to assist the implementation of these arrangements and some institutions even provide direct, over-the-counter help.
  • Yet again, we cannot emphasise enough the value of consulting individual university websites (see the University Profiles) for up-to-date information.
  • If all else fails, phone the university; this is particularly the case where you come across inconsistencies or difficulties in understanding or interpreting the bursaries and scholarships information.
  • Don't be afraid to ask!

Points to ponder

  • Is the bursary automatic or conditional? If it is conditional, when will you know?
  • For those bursaries dependent on family income, you will have a good idea of eligibility when you apply and will know for definite when you get your local authority assessment. For others, you won't know until you get your exam results, well after you have made all the crucial decisions.
  • And if you are studying for unusual entry qualifications (especially any not in the UCAS tariff), you may not know until you or your parents have had a debate with the university's Admissions Office!
  • Is the bursary application procedure complex? Or does it all follow from local authority assessments, postcodes or exam results without your having to do anything?
  • Assess the generosity of the university offer. Some are ploughing back a large slice of their fee income. Some have tried to grab the headlines with high-value bursaries to the few. Some only offer the minimum bursary.
  • How many applicants will benefit from the large headline sums? Check both the value of the bursary and the number on offer. Be realistic – but not pessimistic – about your chances.
  • Do you qualify? If your parents are high-income earners, then you are likely only to be eligible for scholarships linked to your academic achievement and/or a desire to study 'shortage' subjects. So if your mum or dad is a successful barrister, forget it unless you are going to get straight AAAs at A level and plan to do physics!
  • Look out for special (unadvertised) offers when you go to interviews and open days or in Clearing.
  • Increasingly, universities offer fee waivers and accommodation and cash bursaries are becoming smaller in amount and/or scarcer. This is really the difference between reduced debt in the future versus cash in hand now.