Student financial support: a comprehensive guide across Europe

9 min read

Higher education has been transformed in the wake of Covid-19. From hybrid and online classes to limited mobility and fewer exchange programs, the academic landscape is virtually unrecognizable. The good news? Things are starting to get back to normal, meaning that students may be able to look forward to in-person classes this fall.

However, one aspect of higher education remains unchanged—the cost. If you’re looking for help financing your studies, you’re not the only one. So to help you out, N26 has put together a guide to student financial support in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and the UK. Read on to learn how you can get the funds you need to finance your studies.

What is student financial aid and what types are there?

Student financial aid covers three important aspects of your academic life—tuition fees, rent, and living costs (including food, clothing, phone bill, leisure activities, etc.). If you can’t finance these expenses on your own, you can get these funds from a range of sources. Here are the main ones:

  • Loans: This type of financial assistance is borrowed on the condition that you’ll pay it back after you complete your studies, sometimes with interest. Student loans are usually awarded as part of a government scheme, though some private banks and organizations may lend you money as well. Depending on where you live, you may rely heavily on loans during your studies. In the UK, for example, more than £17 billion is loaned to approx. 1.3 million students each year.

  • Grants: Grants are awarded by governmental and non-governmental institutions for various reasons, including financial hardship, personal circumstances, or exceptional academic performance. Grants are essentially gifted—you won’t have to pay them back. In Germany, the largest academic funding organization is the DAAD, financing around 150,000 students each year.

  • Bursaries: This type of funding is reserved for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend a university. You may receive a bursary if you’re from a low-income household, disabled, or hail from a particular region or country. The good news? You won’t have to repay a bursary after you finish your studies! This is a significant source of funding in France, where the annual bursary scale ranges from €1,032 to €5,679.

  • Scholarships: These offer financial assistance based on scholastic excellence. Great in academics, sports, or music? You may have a shot at a scholarship. These can be secured from the academic institution you wish to attend or—in certain circumstances—a private company or government service. The scholarship may be a lump-sum payment or a reduction in tuition fees, and won’t have to be paid back. In Spain, a Studies Abroad scholarship is around €1,250 per year.  

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How to secure student financial support in Europe’s 5 largest countries

Studying post-COVID? Sure, things have changed a bit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t receive the financial support you need to study in the country of your choice. To help you along, we’ve put together guides for securing funding in Germany, Spain, France and Italy—the four most popular study destinations in the single euro payments area (SEPA)—and the United Kingdom.

Germany

No tuition fees, excellent infrastructure, ample scholarships, and a comparatively low cost of living make Germany a prime study destination for European Economic Area (EEA) and non-EEA students alike. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know to study in Germany:

  • Tuition fees: None! One exception is the €3,000 per year for non-EU students studying in Baden-Wurttemberg. An administrative fee of between €100 and €350 applies each semester, which includes transport within the federal state in which you are studying.

  • Primary student financial support scheme: BAföG, a state-funded scheme designed to make higher education available to as many people under the age of 30 (Bachelor) and 35 (Master) as possible. A typical BAföG is 50% interest-free loan and 50% grant. The current maximum amount awarded is €735 per month, and the repayment amount may not exceed €10,000 for any one student.

  • Loan repayment terms: BAföG repayment begins five years after the end of the grant period. 

  • Eligibility: German citizens, permanent residents in Germany, non-citizens with prospects of remaining in Germany following their studies.

  • Application deadline: There’s no official application deadline, but BAföG is awarded starting in the month the application is processed, so it’s better to apply as soon as possible.

  • Other student financial support options: There’s the Deutschlandstipendium, a grant of €300 awarded to high-achieving students, and DAAD scholarships awarded for excellence (197 available).

  • Average monthly living costs: Plan to spend around €415 per month, not including rent in the residence hall, which costs around €280.

  • Useful links: Federal Ministry of Education and Research, BAföG in more detail, Deutschlandstipendium, DAAD scholarships, BAföG application site (German only).

France

Students in France benefit from minimal tuition fees, generous loans and a host of other financial aid schemes—oh, and did we mention great pastries? The cost of living as a student is reasonable, too, depending on where you live. Here’s what you can expect if you decide to attend a French university:

  • Tuition fees: Plan to pay around €170-€620 per year depending on your course of study, plus a campus contribution of €91 per semester.

  • Primary student financial support scheme: The two most common forms of support for students are the BCS grant and the APL housing assistance. Learn more about them here. Prêts étudiants (government student loans) are provided for French nationals or residents under the age of 28 by CROUS, and based on household income, with a cut-off of €20,000. 

  • Loan repayment terms: BCS and APL grants don’t need to be repaid. Repayment for student loans is capped at 10 years.

  • Eligibility: French citizens, permanent residents of France or the EEA, or those who have an uninterrupted legal residence in France for at least 5 years at the time of the conclusion of the loan are all eligible to apply.

  • Application deadline: Applications for student financial aid should be submitted between January 15 and May 15, preceding the start of the fall semester.

  • Other student financial support options: Prospective students can also apply for international mobility assistance, which awards €400 per month for up to nine months; assistance to independent young persons, which grants between €4,000 and €5,000 to students unable to rely on family support; and emergency aid, an annual amount of €1,650 to €4,735 for students facing financial difficulties due to geographical, age-related, or family reasons. For a complete list of financial aid options in France during the pandemic, check out this article.

  • Average monthly living costs: According to campus France, plan to spend around €600-€800 per month on food, transport, and housing. This modest figure may vary depending on your location (hint: in Paris, some estimates go up to €1800 per month!).

  • Useful links: CROUS International, scholarship options at Bachelor, Master and PhD level, Campus France on tuition and registration fees.

Spain

With a relaxed lifestyle and stunning beaches, Spain is a great space to earn your degree. Spain has no centralized loan system, but tuition is manageable and many Spanish students live at home to reduce living costs. Your expenses will probably look something like this:

  • Tuition fees: €750-€2,500 per year

  • Primary student financial support scheme: Spain awards scholarships under the Becas system, which are given out based on students’ academic performance and financial needs.

  • Eligibility: Most eligibility is reserved for Spanish citizens, with some scholarships issued to students based on their region of origin.

  • Application deadline: April 21 for the fall semester, October 15 for the spring semester.

  • Other student financial support options: Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation works with the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation to provide postgraduate scholarships of €1,200 per month up to €20,000 under the MAEC-AECID program.

  • Average monthly living costs: Around €900-€1,000 including rent—note that this figure is slightly higher for Barcelona and Madrid!

  • Useful links: Check out the list of available grants from Study in Spain, MAEC-AECID grants and assistantships, plus the overview of universities and tuition fees in Spain.

Italy

As one of the four founding countries of the European Area of Higher Education (and the founding country of pizza), Italy seeks to make university-level education affordable to students from all backgrounds. Happily, the application process is straightforward, and a variety of scholarship options are available.

  • Tuition fees: €900-€4,000 per year, depending on your family’s income.

  • Primary student financial support scheme: Fewer than 1% of students take out a loan to study. Scholarships are awarded by regional governments in Italy. 

  • Eligibility: Eligibility is for Italian citizens, with some scholarships issued to foriegn students.

  • Application deadline: The application deadline varies depending on the region.

  • Other student financial support options: International students can apply for a scholarship from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. 

  • Average monthly living costs: Around €700-€1,000 per month (hint: you’ll need a larger budget for Florence, Venice, and Rome).

  • Useful links: Grant application page, top 10 scholarships for international students, an explanation of tuition-based income and typical tuition fees.

United Kingdom

With some of the highest tuition fees in Europe and new policies introduced for international students following Brexit, the United Kingdom may seem less alluring than France or Germany at first glance. However, the trade-off is that it’s home to more top universities than any other country in Europe.

  • Tuition fees: Around £10,000 per year.

  • Primary student financial support scheme: The Student Loans Company, a non-profit, government-owned organization awards loans and grants. Students can receive financial aid of up to £9,250 per year to cover the cost of tuition.

  • Repayment terms: Repayment for loans begins after reaching an income threshold of £1,657 or £2,274 per month depending on the repayment plan, starting from the April following the conclusion of studies.

  • Eligibility: UK and EU citizens, permanent residents, and those with long-term visas.

  • Application deadline: Students can apply up to nine months after the first day of the academic year for their course of study. 

  • Other student financial support options: Check out Universal Credit, college hardship funds, Parents’ Learning Allowance, Adult Dependants’ Grant (up to £3,190 per academic year), and the Disabled Students’ Allowance (up to £25,000 per year). These funds don’t have to be repaid.

  • Average monthly living costs: Around £1,000 per month (or higher for London).

  • Useful links: UK government undergraduate student finance guide, cost of living and tuition fee guide, The Scholarship Hub.


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