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Tuition Fees at Oxford and Cambridge

If you’re going to be applying to university this year, then tuition fees are likely to be on your mind.

Following the 2012 raise in the tuition fee cap (i.e., a maximum figure that universities can charge undergraduate students per year) for UK home students to £9,000 (£4,500 part time), since 2020 undergraduates are now being asked by Oxbridge (and most UK Universities) to pay £9,250 (£4,625 part time) per year for the duration of their studies. There is also constant talk of changes to government loan figures and thresholds which can be very confusing indeed, even for those who are very much in the know. Never fear! Read on to find out everything you need to know about the tuition fee rises, how they will affect you and what you can do to make things a little bit easier once you graduate.


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So, what kind of figures are we talking?

From 2012 onwards, universities have been allowed to charge students up to £9,000. Originally this number was only allowed to be charged in ‘exceptional circumstances’, such as if it was an intensive 2-year degree but universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, Exeter and Durham now all charge the full fee rate, arguing that their degrees are worth this sum of money. More universities joined them over the years, and now, following a £250 per year increase in the cap in 2020, £9,250 is what you should expect to pay at any university.

Fortunately, regulations by the Office of Fair Access demanded that a proportion of fees charged over £6,000 be dedicated to widening access and giving scholarships and bursaries to poorer students. However, even with the positives of these increased fees, a graduate who spent 3 years at university paying £9,250 per year could come out with a debt of tens of thousands once maintenance loans are accounted for. According to the House of Commons Library, the forecast average debt among the cohort of borrowers who began their course in the 2021/2022 academic year is £45,800 upon completing the course. On the brighter side, forecast debt is expected to be lower for those beginning after another set of reforms planned for 2023/2024, but only by a few thousand pounds.

How do you pay it back?

Currently, graduates have to pay a percentage of their salary above a certain threshold. This is, at present, £524 per week or £2,274 per month (a bit over £27,000 per year) and graduates are required to pay 9% of their salary above this for 30 years. After 30 years, if the debt hasn’t been paid, it is written off (Just as their kids start going to university! Oh the irony!). The amount graduates have to be earning before they start paying is adjusted according to inflation every year, so as your salary buys less, the threshold for paying back the loan will increase. Whilst there is still a figure on your balance, the debt accrues interest (i.e., the longer the money isn’t paid back the larger the figure to be paid will get). The interest is currently 4.5% whilst you’re studying, after which the interest rate changes depending on your income (but generally remains roughly the same as the aforementioned 4.5%).

At present, only about a quarter of graduates repay their student loan debt in full in the 30 years after graduation, so it’s more likely than not that you’ll never have to pay back the full amount you’ve loaned. In fact, there are sometimes penalties for trying to pay back your student loan faster than the suggested plan, so even if funds allow it’s often best to leave the debt be!


Do these fees apply to all students?

In short, no, these fees do not apply to all students at all UK universities for a variety of complicated reasons. Here are a few of the key exceptions that might apply to you.

Firstly, these tuition caps are only applicable to UK home students, with international student fees being considerably higher. For example, whilst UK student fees are £9,250 p.a. for home students on all undergraduate courses, the international tuition fees range between £24,750-£34,678 per year, which is significantly higher. Furthermore, since the UK left the EU, students from the European Union are now required to pay the full international figures.

There are also different figures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland for students coming from these regions. In Scotland, whilst students from the rest of the UK will be likely to find themselves paying the full £9,250 per year (although it’s worth bearing in mind that this is only for the first three years of the usual four-year Scottish degree, with the final year often being significantly cheaper), Scottish students are charged £1,820 per year which is covered by the Scottish government in almost all cases. University fees in Wales are still capped at £9,000 per year, and students from Wales can see up to £1,500 per year knocked off their student loan repayments. In Northern Ireland, students from the rest of the UK are generally charged the cap of £9,250 per year, while Northern Irish students will be charged £4,630 in the 2022/2023 academic year. (NB: to be considered a ‘home’ student in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, you are usually required to have been living there for three years prior to the start of your degree course).

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

There are certain things that may make you feel a bit happier if you are worried about how much you will have to pay for your university. Some graduate employers can be very generous, offering to pay for scholarships and student tuition, as well as offering jobs afterwards. Many other large graduate recruiters are set to follow suit as their generous schemes will guarantee them the best graduates. This is definitely something worth keeping an eye on before you begin university and whilst you are there.

Furthermore, universities themselves often offer extensive scholarship and bursary programmes, particularly if you are from a disadvantaged background or have certain skills (such as sports or music). These differ greatly by university (or, if you’re applying to Oxford or Cambridge, by college) so make sure to research what each university you’re interested in can offer you! If you’re worried about how much you will have to pay, it’s worth getting all the information you can. Speak to your school’s careers department and the universities you are thinking of applying to and find out whether you are eligible for any bursaries or scholarships.

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