Whether you’re a teenager thinking of going to university or an adult wanting to retrain, there may be a grant or a loan to help you fund your learning.
Loads of grants and bursaries go unclaimed each year in the UK, so we’ve created this guide so you can bag the cash you’re entitled to.
What is a grant?
Students moving onto higher education can get Government grants to help with the cost of studying. These can go towards study materials, accommodation, food, or anything you want since it's paid directly to your bank account.
Eligibility can depend on a student's household income, location, or background, while universities who charge over the basic fee level of £6,000 must provide bursaries for those from low-income backgrounds.
Unlike a maintenance loan or tuition fees, you don't have to pay back bursaries or maintenance grants, so double-check to see if you're entitled to anything.
The top education grants
Check the following ways to see if you might be eligible for a financial boost.
Hidden scholarship and funding
If you're going to uni, there are loads of hidden pots of cash available. They're often less about academic ability and more about factors such as religion, where you live or what your parents do for a living.
Educational Grants Service: This service offers students, especially disadvantaged ones, guidance and advice to help them secure funding for education and training. You can search its database of over 30 educational trusts.
Postgraduate funding: There's less help available for people wanting to do a second or third degree as normal student loans aren't available. Postgrad Solutions' Ultimate Postgraduate Student Funding Guide lists sources of funding, but better yet is the quirky Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding. It's a paid-for service, so you'll need to ask your current university to give you access, but it's highly recommended by career advisors.
Scholarships and bursaries: There are nifty search tools on the Scholarship Search and Studentcashpoint websites - you'll be surprised at what's available. Some are very specific and are aimed at students from various backgrounds.
Study in Europe: If you want to study abroad for a year at one of 33 participating European universities, grants are available from the British Council as part of the Erasmus scheme.
Here are some examples of grants to give you inspiration...
I managed to get a journalism course funded through a New Deal advisor at the jobcentre after I was turned down for another grant. It was a long process and I had to prove that the course would lead to gainful employment, but I was persistent and got a grant for £3,000. It's worth asking the jobcentre "is there any way I can get help to pay for this course?
I was sponsored £1,000 towards the cost of a legal studies course by a small charity. Just need to find the rest now...
Standard student MoneySaving
No-one in the UK should be put off studying because of potential student debt. Done right, it's very different to normal debt. It's only repaid when you finish studying, and if you don't earn enough when you leave (and of course one reason for studying is to enable you to earn more) you don't have to pay for it. Types of funding are as follows:
Student loans: Most UK higher education students are eligible for a student loan.
Maintenance grant: Students in England are also eligible for a grant up to £3,387 (for the 2014/15 academic year) to help with living costs if their parents earn under £42,620.
National Scholarship Programme: You can apply for an additional cash bursary of up to £1,000. If you're eligible, it'll be paid directly into your bank account by your university or college.
Full details in the Student Finance guide.
Fee-free tuition for Scottish students
If you live in Scotland and decide to study at a university in Scotland, you won't have to pay anything towards tuition fees, you'll be guaranteed to get a maintenance loan and may be eligible for a bursary. But if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you'll still have to pay up to £9,000 a year to study in Scotland.
The Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) offers the Young Students' Bursary, which covers day-to-day living costs if your family's household income is less than £34,000 a year. Those on an income of less than £17,000 will get the full bursary of £1,750.
Anyone who applies through SAAS will be eligible for a loan of at least £4,750 if their household income is £34,000 or above, while others will receive £5,750.
There's also an Independent Students' Bursary and student loan for those who are 25 or over, are married or living with a partner, or responsible for a child. Here, you'll get a bursary of £750 if your household income is under £17,000.
Loans work in the same way for mature students - you'll get at least £4,750 if your household income is over £34,000, while those with an income under £17,000 can borrow up to £6,750.
Further education loans for mature students in England
If you're 24 or over, you can apply for a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan to help with college or training tuition costs in England.
You'll need to be studying a Level 3 or 4 course - these include A-levels, Access to Higher Education Diplomas and many apprenticeships You can take a loan for each A-level, but you can't take them all at once. You must also have lived anywhere in the UK for the last three years.
There's no credit check to get the loan, and it doesn't depend on your household income. How much you get depends on what you're studying and what your college charges in tuition fees. The minimum loan is £300. The loan will be paid directly to the college.
There's also a 24+ Advanced Learning Loans Bursary Fund, which you can apply to if you need learning help, or to cover childcare or residential costs.
If you're studying an Access to Higher Education diploma, then go on to complete a higher education course, your 24+ Advanced Learning Loan is written off.
You start paying the loan back when you earn £21,000 a year or more. Interest is charged at RPI+3% while you're studying, then at RPI.
Individual Learning Accounts for Scottish adults
If you live in Scotland and earn less than £22,000 a year, you could get some funding from ILA Scotland.
This provides a grant of £200 towards the cost of learning something new at any approved provider, including learning centres, colleges, universities and private training companies.
Discretionary Learner Support
You can apply for Discretionary Learner Support from your education provider if you're 19 or over, studying for a further education course, and facing financial hardship. This money can go towards childcare, accommodation, travel or course materials & equipment.
Your school or college decides how much you'll get, and which scheme you'll be put on, ie it could be a direct payment (you don't have to pay it back), a loan, or paid directly to your landlord.
Care to Learn
There is help for those who have to bear the cost of course fees and childcare through the Government's Care to Learn scheme. You must be 20 years or over at the start of your course to be eligible for the scheme, and be the main carer for your child. This is not suitable for those studying a higher education course at university.
The sum covers childcare, deposit and registration fees, travel costs for taking your child to the provider, and keeping your childcare place over the holidays. Childcare providers must be registered with Ofsted.
Payments of £160 per child per week (£175 if you live in London) will stop if you stop studying, you finish the course, or your child stops attending childcare.
Professional and Career Development Loans
If you think grants and loans are only for university students, think again. These loans are offered at a reduced interest rate, which the Government pays while you're studying, and are there to help those who want to top up their training.
To be eligible, you need to be over 18 and must have been living in anywhere in the UK for at least three years before the start of your course. Your course must last two years, or up to three years with a year of work experience.
The snag is that the course must be provided by an organisation on the Professional Career and Development Loan Register, so you'll need to check.
Local council grants
Your local council may offer grants to advance your education. As councils can assign funding to different areas, search for local training providers using the Gov.uk website.
Free short courses
If you're not looking to take an in-depth or long-term course, there are thousands of short courses happening all over the UK. Many free courses can depend on where you live, but there are a few schemes that run throughout the country.
Over 50 and interested in setting up your own business?
The Prince’s Initiative, a charity that supports people who are out of work or facing redundancy, offers a Preparing to Run Your Own Business Course for the over-50s. It's free but requires an £80 deposit, reduced to £25 if you're claiming an employment-related benefit, which is refunded when you've finished the course.
The course runs all over the UK and includes areas such as marketing and finance. For more information, or to book a place, see the Prime website or call 0845 862 2023.
Want to improve your maths and English skills?
If you’ve ever wanted to improve your maths and English skills, virtually every college in the country offers free courses to help you from basic literacy and numeracy up to GCSE level. Check on the National Careers Service website or call 0800 100 900 for classes in your area.
Need help getting started online?
If you or your friends and family would like to learn more about using a computer or the internet, the Learn My Way website hosts a free short course called Online Basics. You can do the course at home, or at a local UK Online centre.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 6.7 million people in the UK, mostly the over-65s or those out of work, have never used the internet. If you'd like to help someone get starte, the Go On, Give An Hour website has some great tips.
Want to learn a language?
There are plenty of places which will teach you a language for a fee, yet you needn't pay a penny. There's a host of completely free websites and online tools which cater for every language and learning style.
See the Learn a Language for Free guide for a full rundown of some of the best.