11 Ways to Get Your University Degree For Free



Image shows soldiers standing in front of a plane. It’s hard to believe that going to university used to be free for everyone.

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In those days, of course, far fewer people went to university. These days, with ever-increasing competition for university places as more and more students embark on what has become a rite of passage, tuition fees have soared to £9,000 a year, meaning that many more students are now considering whether getting a degree is worth this kind of money and the debt it entails. If you’re worried about the financial side of things, you’ll be reassured to know that there are still ways in which you can get a degree without paying anything – or at least by paying a substantially lower amount. In this article, we look at some of the funding opportunities that may be open to you, and show you that financial strain needn’t be a barrier to receiving the level of education you’re aiming for.

1. If you never earn more than the threshold, your degree is free

Image shows a €20 note, folded into an aeroplane, flying out of a purse.

If you never earn above the threshold, you never have to pay.

The important thing to remember with the way student finance works these days is that you don’t have to start repaying your student loan (Tuition Fee and Maintenance Loans) until you’re earning above a certain threshold, which is currently £21,000. If, when you graduate, you earn less than this amount per year, you won’t have to start your repayments. If you never earn more than this, your degree will have been completely free because you’ll never have to pay back the loans. Of course, one of the main reasons for getting a degree is that it helps boost your earning potential, so if you don’t ever end up earning more than this then you’re rather unlucky. The good news is that if you do earn over the threshold, there are funding opportunities for which you can apply now that will reduce the amount you end up having to pay back.

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2. Means-tested student funding and fee reduction

If you’re at a financial disadvantage owing to your family circumstances, you’ll be able to apply for a range of so-called “means-tested” funding opportunities. This means that you’ll need to provide details of your household or family income to prove that you’re genuinely in need. The amount to which you’re entitled to will vary according to your household income, so it’s difficult to say exactly how much of your costs you’ll be able to cover with means-tested funding, but if you’re from a less well-off background you could receive a substantial amount and end up having very little (if anything) to pay back. Some universities will also reduce their fees for students from hard-up families, while others will provide generous bursaries and grants to help cover the cost of things like accommodation and textbooks. We’ll look at these opportunities shortly.

3. Maintenance Grant

Image shows a stethoscope lying on a textbook.

The maintenance grant is there to help with student essentials.

Not to be confused with the Maintenance Loan, the Maintenance Grant is applied for via the Student Loans Company and is means-tested – so you’ll have to give details of your household income when you apply – and, unlike the Maintenance Loan, you don’t have to pay it back. You’ll need to be on a full-time degree course and an English citizen to be entitled to the Maintenance Grant (EU students aren’t eligible for it), which will be paid to you at the start of each term. Note that if you do receive a Maintenance Grant, there’ll be a corresponding decrease in the amount you’re entitled to via the Maintenance Loan. The Maintenance Grant is designed to help you cover living costs while you’re at university, and if your household income is lower than £25,000, you’ll be able to apply for up to £3,387 a year. There’s a handy online student finance calculator to help you work out how much you’re entitled to.

4. Special Support Grant

If you’re on Income Support or Housing Benefit, you might be able to get a Special Support Grant, which is typically given to single parents or those with disabilities. The amount you receive via this grant is the same as the Maintenance Grant, the difference being that you can still apply for the maximum Maintenance Loan as well.

5. Travel grants

Image shows a plane landing at London City Airport.

You can apply for a travel grant using your normal student finance account.

If you’re going to be studying your degree abroad, either the full course or an overseas placement on the ERASMUS scheme, you may be entitled to a travel grant to help you meet the cost of the travel expenses you’ll incur. It doesn’t matter whether the overseas part of your course is compulsory or optional, but you must be a permanent resident of the UK. You don’t have to pay back your travel grant, and the amount you’re entitled to depends on your household income. Unfortunately, you have to cover the first £303 yourself, but because you can apply for the cost of up to three return flights, as well as travel visas and medical insurance, your costs can still be significantly reduced with a grant – especially if you’re flying long-haul, which is considerably more expensive than travelling within Europe.

You can also get such a grant if you’re on a medical or dental course and have to take a UK or overseas placement as an essential part of the course (though if you’re also receiving means-tested funding from the Department of Health, you won’t be able to get a travel grant as well). If your placement is based in the UK, you can get a grant to cover the cost of travel between your home and the hospital at which you’re doing your placement. This may not prove to be a significant expense, but every little helps at a time in life when your financial resources are already under huge strain.

6. University bursaries and grants

Many universities offer bursaries or grants to students facing financial hardship while at university. These could come in the form of cash, or they could be grants to help you cover the costs of accommodation, books, course-related travel and so on. These usually don’t have to be paid back, so they’re not a loan that will contribute to your debt, and you get them in addition to, not instead of, your normal student loan allowances. The amount and conditions of the bursaries or grants that may be available to you will vary from one university to the next, so check with your university to see what financial help you may be entitled to.

7. NHS sponsorship

Image shows South Birmingham NHS Dental Hospital.

The NHS can help considerably towards the cost of your degree.

Are you aiming to study medicine, dentistry or healthcare? If so, you might be able to get your hands on an NHS bursary and grant – on top of your normal Maintenance Loan – to help you meet the cost of both tuition fees and living costs. Even better, NHS bursaries don’t have to be paid back. If you’re doing a six-year medical degree, the first four years of your course are funded in the same way as other courses, but after that, you can get your tuition fees paid in full by the NHS, as well as a bursary dependent on your income. This will go a long way to compensating you for the extra expense involved in doing these longer courses rather than a standard three or four-year course. The conditions surrounding exactly what you’ll get are quite complicated, as they depend on various factors such as your household income (for the bursary), how long you’re studying for and how many weeks a year, whether you’re studying in London, living with your parents and so on. You can find out more here.

8. Sponsorship from the Armed Forces

If you’re aiming for a career in the Armed Forces, but you still want to do a degree first (either to keep your long-term options open or to prepare yourself for a more specialised Forces role), the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force all offer sponsorship for those undertaking any degree course prior to entry to the Forces (some specific bursaries may lean more towards students who are embarking on engineering, medical or dentistry degrees). The Army’s Undergraduate Bursary is typical of the way such Armed Forces undergraduate sponsorship schemes work. It gives you between £6,000 and £8,000 depending on how long your course is, and it doesn’t matter what subject you study. This isn’t freely given money, though: you’ll have to pass officer selection first, and then when you complete your degree you’ll be expected to take up a place at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, after which you’ll have to serve at least three years as a Regular Officer. The Army also offers a bursary aimed at talented musicians, offering £1,500 towards a three-year music course for those looking to join the Corps of Army Music.

9. Get sponsored by a company

Image shows the Siemens offices in Olso.

Siemens Power Academy operates with Manchester, Loughborough, Queen’s College Belfast, Cardiff, Southampton, Imperial, Bath and Strathclyde.

It’s not just the Armed Forces that sponsors students through university with the expectation that the student takes up a job with them. Companies do it too, as it’s part of their long-term investment in securing the highest-quality graduates (although they don’t always expect you to take a job with them after you graduate). To give you an example of such a scheme, Siemens has on offer both financial and workplace support to undergraduate students at a number of UK universities through its Power Academy and E3 Industrial Academy, as well as individual sponsorship agreements with the Universities of Cambridge and Lincoln. These agreements enable you to receive financial support as well as having access to industry placements over the summer to help ready you for a job in the industry. Another example of a company willing to fund the education of future employees is BAE Systems, the aerospace company, which offers an MSc bursary scheme to those pursuing masters degrees accredited by the Royal Aeronautical Society, as well as several annual sponsorships for those studying Systems Engineering. Google “undergraduate sponsorship” and you’ll find plenty more opportunities to explore.

10. National Scholarship Programme

If you come from a home in which the household income is £25,000 or less, you can apply for the National Scholarship Programme through your university or college. Financial support through this programme can take a variety of forms, including a cash bursary of up to £1,000 or financial help with your tuition fees and accommodation. It’s probably not going to give you a degree completely free of charge, but it will help lessen your student debt, so it’s definitely worth applying for if you meet the eligibility criteria.

11. Work in the holidays

Image shows a Royal Mail postbox.

Royal Mail takes on extra workers over Christmas.

While it’s not really “getting your degree for free”, working in the holidays will at least have a big impact on the amount of debt you’re left with by the end of your degree. The more you can save up during the holidays, the less you’ll have to take in Maintenance Loans, which brings down the cost of university significantly. Holiday jobs put you in the win-win situation of earning money to pay for your degree at the same time as giving you valuable work experience that will help land you a well-paid job, which in turn will help you pay off any student debt you do end up with as quickly as possible. The summer gives you the longest stretch in which to earn money, but you may well be able to get work in the other holidays too. For example, the Royal Mail takes on lots of extra workers in the busy run-up to Christmas. To boost your earnings still further, you could also take a part-time job during term-time, provided it doesn’t impact too much on your studies and stress levels.

Hopefully this article has shown you that funding opportunities are out there if you know where to look for them – it’s just that finding them can sometimes take a little digging (and that means some diligent Googling!). In this day and age very little in this world comes completely free – there’s usually a catch, such as costs exceeding funding, or your being tied into a commitment to work for a particular employer once you graduate. But if you’re clear about your career plans from fairly early on, there are numerous opportunities for you to cash in on that will benefit you both now and in the future.



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Image credits: banner; flying money; stethoscope; airport; NHS; Siemens; Royal Mail.

Comments (23)

  1. Richard Bahoze

    Hi my brothers and sisters, my comment is , how does an orphan can get access to study further ? am Richard from Africa, I need your assistance to study further in Medicine, Hopefully, it would be helpful for others and for glory of our God.

    • Audrina Oakes-Cottrell

      Dear Richard,
      Thank you for your interest.
      Oxford Royale Summer Schools is a summer school provider based in Oxford UK. We are not a university, nor are we affiliated with any university, and we do not offer sponsorship to students wishing to study at a UK university.
      However, attending a two-week medicine course with Oxford Royale MAY improve your chances of entering university by making your CV look more impressive.
      If you would like to apply for a scholarship for an Oxford Royale summer school programme, please register your interest at the link below, and we will contact you in October 2017 with further information.
      We wish you all the best.
      Kind regards,
      Oxford Royale Summer Schools


    so grate; I am TURYABE Nicholas I hold bachelor’s degree in agribusiness management of makerere university Uganda and i would like to further my studies. Kindly can I get a sponsorship.
    Thank you
    I will be grateful


    my name is fitih kasahun I finish grade 10 in ethiopia school with CGPA 3.75 but I stop learnig dueto finanacial problem. can i get scholarship to continue education

  4. Amos King’oo

    My name is Amos king’oo I recently graduated from Kenya Medical Training college with a diploma in Clinical Medicine And Surgery and wish to further my studies. I was hoping you could help with a sponsorship for a degree in Medicine thank you.
    hoping to hear from you soon.


    Can j be sponsered at oxford university? amEYADU PATRICK student from Uganda

  6. Callixte

    am called callixte from Rwanda. I have completed my secondary school in 2012 but until now I do not get money to go for the University, the first am orphelin and very poor and I don’t have any parent who can help me. so in September I have dreams to start university so I want your help to get someone who can sponsor me in form of loan or other advices from you. thanks am waiting for your response.


    Am emmanuel Kato from Africa-Uganda and I have been given a conditional placement at the University of South Wales for a Bsc(hons) civil engineering course commencing in September 2017.

    The initial cost is about £ 22000 and so how feasible can I be sponsored by the UK construction company or opting for Student loan ,In other words which possible smart directive or alternative should I take. Thank you very much


    Am emmanuel Kato from Africa-Uganda and I have been given a conditional placement at the University of South Wales for a Bsc(hons) civil engineering course commencing in September 2017.

    The initial cost is about £ 22000 and so how feasible can I be sponsored by the UK construction company or opting for Student loan ,In other words which possible smart directive or alternative should I take. Thank your very much

  9. mercy atieno onyango

    Am mercy atieno and am a kenyan age 22years and I want to join my college in April next month and I need a sponsorship to help me in futher studies

  10. Anubhav Bhattarai

    My name is Anubhav Bhattarai. I am a student from Nepal and I am applying for Swin Burne University, Australia. I got a unconditional offer and the tuition rate is so high there. I m a qualified student whose academic score are quite impressive as said by the consultancy and the university. The university has also offered me a merit based scholarship but even after the scholarship, it is quite high.
    Can I get sponsorship??

  11. Idah Gofaone Nketsang

    My name is Idah Nketsang from Botswana i currently study water and environmental engineering here in Botswana but due to expensive fees i have stoped schooling i dont have funds to pay for my studies as i am an orphan

  12. field

    I need a help from you have no money

  13. Unzimai Innocent

    I comoleted A”level lasr yeae 2016 and then lost my father and have no way to move with my studies.
    If considerd, i will be very greatfull..I wish to do Food and nutrition in makerere university

  14. andrew

    Hello Sir/Madam,
    I am a ugandan east africa and orphan want to join university but have no fees how do you help me.Thank you.

  15. Paul Obinna

    Sir, I currently do not earn anything but wishes to get a degree certificate from your school.
    I am not working. How can you help me


    Dear Sir /Madam,My name is Emmanuel Kitumbu an International student from Tanzania, I have admitted to. study an International Foundation Programme at University of Derby, the course started on 12 September 2016, the University of Derby offer me a half of fees and other half of fees I needed to pay it or sponsors can pay it for me, but my family is very poor, I can not afford myself to pay accommodation, living expenses, a half of school fees, visa and air ticket. please can I get a sponsorships help for cover costs for my study please, my desire and dreams is to study. even to work for any job I can do to pay back all costs can be paid for me please. Thank you for your consideration,
    Kind Regards,
    Emmanuel Kitumbu

    • ORA Admin

      Dear Emmanuel,

      Thank you for getting in touch, and congratulations on your offer from University of Derby! Unfortunately we are unable to provide financial assistance for programmes outside of ORA (although we do offer scholarships for our own programmes at the ISC). We would recommend contacting University of Derby itself and informing them of your difficulties – they may be able to help with a solution.

      Best of luck with your studies, we hope you find the help that you need.

      Kind regards,

      The ORA Team

  17. Jerome Kakule

    My name is Jerome Kakule an international student from Uganda.I am a qualified clinical officer from Kampala international university.
    I would like to further my education out the country and preferably at ORA.How can be helped?
    Thanks for your response about the same.

  18. Ampiire Isabella

    My name is Ampiire Isabella. I am an international student from Uganda, Africa. I applied to the University of Salford and i was given a conditional offer. Do international students also get a chance to be sponsored. The tuition is really high and i don’t want to miss a chance to study in the UK.

    • ORA Admin

      Dear Ampiire,

      Congratulations on your offer! We wish you the best of luck in fulfilling your place. In terms of tuition, the rates for international students in the UK are indeed quite steep, but individual institutions have the discretion to help students if they are unable to pay the fees. You should get in contact with the admissions office at the University of Salford and let them know that you are concerned about the money. No one will know better than them in this scenario!

      We hope this helps,
      Thank you.

  19. Denis

    I want to know more, and I want this guide for free on my email.

    • Richard Bahoze

      > yes Am so glad to find you in order to insist you to assist me how to get scholarship of medicine for free,
      My email:

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