Qualifying for student finance

To qualify for student finance, your course and your university or college must meet certain conditions. This page sets out the conditions that apply if you’re from Northern Ireland and doing a higher education course in the UK.

Checking if you qualify

There are three main conditions you have to meet to qualify for student finance:

  • personal eligibility
  • course eligibility
  • the university or college you go to

Personal eligibility

Normally you must be living in Northern Ireland on the first day of the first academic year of your course and either:

  • have been living in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for the three years immediately before this date and have ‘settled status’ in the UK (meaning you can live permanently in the UK without the Home Office placing any restrictions on how long you can stay)
  • meet the requirements of one of the other UK residency categories listed in the relevant Regulations (for example, you are a refugee living in the UK)

Previous study

If you have studied previously on a higher education course, this will affect your entitlement to support.

If you already have an honours degree, or you are applying for support for a course that is the same or lower in level than your first higher education course you will not generally be eligible for any further fee or maintenance support. This applies regardless of whether you have a comparable qualification from a United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland or overseas institution and regardless of whether your previous qualification was publicly funded or self-funded.

There are some exceptions where you may be eligible for further support if you are studying a course that leads to a professional qualification, for example doctor, dentist, vet, architect, social worker or teacher.

If you already hold a Foundation degree, HND, HNC or similar qualification, you can apply for support to "top-up” to a higher level qualification, for example honours degree. However, your previous study will be taken into account in calculating your support entitlement. For example, if you have completed a two year HND or HNC course and you progress to year one of a three year degree course, you will not be eligible to receive a tuition

If you are entering the first year of a full-time degree course, having already completed a part-time level 4 or 5 qualification, such as a HNC, HND or foundation degree, you will be eligible to receive a tuition fee loan, as long as it is not a bursary year or Erasmus year of a course provided at an institution in Northern Ireland or Scotland.

Check your personal eligibility at the Student Finance Northern Ireland website:

Course eligibility

The course you plan to study must be of a certain type (a ‘designated course’ such as a BSc, HND, PGCE) leading to a recognised higher education qualification.

The university or college you study at

The university or college you plan to study at must be either:

  • publicly funded (paid for by Government) and in the UK or Republic of Ireland
  • privately funded in the UK but running individual courses that receive public funding ( the course must have received a 'specific designation' from the Department for the Economy

If you are a Northern Ireland student attending a higher education course at a private institution, you should be aware that for certain private institutions, you will not receive the full tuition fee loan support to cover your tuition fees.

You will be responsible for funding the difference in the additional cost of your tuition fees. Find out what tuition fees are charged by the Private institution and what tuition fee loan support is available from the Student Finance NI team in the Education Authority office in your area before you start the course.

When the rules on eligibility don’t apply

Different rules apply if you:

  • normally live outside Northern Ireland
  • are doing your course outside the UK
  • are doing a postgraduate course (apart from a course of Initial Teacher Training)
  • Studying at an overseas university

Students returning to the UK after living in the EU, EEA or Switzerland

UK nationals, previously ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland, who are living in the EU, EEA or Switzerland, who wish to study in Northern Ireland, will continue to be eligible for home fee status and student support for a seven year transition period after the date of the UK’s exit from the European Union.  This includes eligibility for further and higher education student support.

UK Nationals who lived in Northern Ireland before exercising their right to live in the EU/EEA/Switzerland and wish to return to the UK to study a higher education course should contact Student Finance NI to discuss their particular circumstances and check their eligibility.

In the event of  the UK leaving the EU without an agreed deal, the seven-year period would begin on exit day.  If the UK leaves the EU with a deal, that period will start at the end of the Implementation Period.

UK nationals studying at Higher Education institutions in EU Member States, should speak to their Higher Education provider about arrangements to complete courses there.

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