Sending your child to university is extremely expensive. UK expatriates are often surprised to find that despite having British nationality, their children don’t qualify for home fee status. We outline the issues surrounding eligibility for home fees when sending your child to university in the UK.
How much are UK university tuition fees?
According to the Times Higher Education website, tuition fees for an undergraduate degree in the UK can range from zero, for Scottish students studying in Scotland, to up to £58,600 a year for international students studying medicine.
The majority of undergraduate degrees in the UK cost £9,250 per year for home students, with most English universities opting for the maximum permitted fee.
UK universities: Home versus International fees
Most public universities in the UK have two levels of fees: home and international. As you’ll see from the section above, the international fees are significantly higher. These rise with and often outstrip inflation.
For expat students, eligibility for home fee status is obviously a huge financial advantage however this is by no means guaranteed.
How do universities decide eligibility for home fee status?
The rules regarding who pays home fees are set out in a series of guides produced by the charity UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs). There is a different guide for each of the four UK nations. These are the links:
Fee status rules for England.
Fee status rules for Scotland.
Fee status rules for Wales.
Fee status rules for Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, the rules are not always clear and easy to understand and are based on case law and legal precedents. According to Sam Goodwin of UK Study Options, who is an expert in this area, ‘Each university makes their own decisions and with five different universities, you could have five different interpretations of home fee policies.’
This makes ensuring eligibility for home fee status far more complex than many expats residing in Asia may realise. Nevertheless, these are the main considerations to bear in mind if you are an expat in Asia and want to send your child to university in the UK.
Eligibility considerations for Home fees – two questions to ask
Can you demonstrate ordinary residence in the UK?
Ordinary residence is particular to the UK. In broad terms, it means being able to show that you have a regular and habitual life in a particular place.
To be eligible to pay home fees, the onus is on a student to prove ordinary residence in a UK country. If the family is based abroad, the student will need to show they regularly travel back to the UK with at least one parent and have an accessible home base address.
UKCISA has some guidance on ordinary residence case law here.
The documents required as evidence of ordinary residence will vary from one university to the next. The student may be asked to provide e-tickets for travel, utility bills, property deeds, rental agreements, and even shopping transactions.
Challenges may arise when students and parents are uncertain about their ‘ordinary residence’. A family’s case may be complicated by owning more than one property, having tenants in your property, or having a child away at boarding school. Owning a property or having relatives in Ireland or Europe could also be relevant to your case. It is important to get specialist advice about your specific circumstances to prevent making mistakes.
Where has the student resided for the three years prior to starting university?
Universities also typically review the student’s whereabouts for the three years prior to the first academic term. For instance, if applying for 2024 entry, they will assess residency between 2021 and 2024. If the information is unclear, they may request data from birth.
In cases where parents are temporarily based overseas due to work, and the student is required to reside with them, they may still be eligible for home fee status. The rules say that if a student can demonstrate that they have not been ordinarily resident in the UK only because their parent was temporarily working outside the UK, they will be entitled to home fees.
In short: establishing home fee status can be complicated for many expatriates in Asia. To give your child the best possible chance of eligibility for home fees, it is vital to plan ahead. We recommend taking specialist advice well before your child completes their secondary education.
How to fund a university education
Home fee students in the UK can apply for student loans via the government-run scheme. If this applies to your child, you’ll find information on student finance here.
Loans are available for both tuition fees and maintenance (to cover living costs) subject to eligibility criteria. This will depend on nationality, residency, parents’ income, previous study, and the type of course you are applying for. Generally, most home students applying for their first degree-level course will be eligible for tuition fees, while maintenance fees are means-tested.
If your child is not eligible for home fee status, not only will they pay more in fees, but they won’t be able to access student loans from Student Finance England. That leaves parents and students with the thorny dilemma of how to finance a degree.
Students may be able to apply for bank loans in their own name but often it falls to parents to fund an education. That’s another reason why you need to plan ahead.
We advise clients who have children to start an education fund as early as possible. This helps spread the cost of quality education over many years. In addition, when savings are invested appropriately, compound interest should provide a welcome boost to the pot.
If you are expecting your child to go to university, in the UK or elsewhere, now is the time to start planning, regardless of their age. It really is never too early.
Our advisers have helped many families realise the dream of a university degree for their child with a regular savings plan. With clear objectives and a carefully planned strategy, you can ease the burden of university fees for you and your child and give them a flying start in life!
Contact us today to discuss a personalised education fee plan.
A leading provider of expat financial services and wealth management services across Asia.