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Student financial support: a comprehensive guide across Europe

Governments, universities, and Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) across Europe offer financial incentives to make studying less of a financial burden. This comprehensive guide on student finances will boost your knowledge of funding options available, to ensure student financial support is in place by the time the new semester begins. Are you ready to wave goodbye to money worries? Then let’s begin...

What student financial support is available?

Study is the priority for students, but money is needed to pay for rent, food, and living expenses. Fortunately there are a number of ways to receive student financial support to cover basic living costs. The main categories are:

1. Loans

Student loans are a popular way to ensure studying is financially viable. This type of student financial support covers substantial funding for tuition fees and living costs, and will need to be paid back. Government schemes or private banks offer student loans with reduced or zero interest and manageable repayment terms.

2. Bursaries

Unlike loans, bursaries are based on financial circumstances and don’t have to be repaid. The amount awarded is dependent on family income, with thresholds for eligibility. These are often paid directly from the HEI, and may offer a reduction in tuition fees.

3. Grants

Grants also don’t have to be repaid. They’re awarded for a number of reasons, from financial need, personal circumstances, or achievement. Grants may be state-funded, awarded by private organizations or by universities or HEIs themselves.

4. Scholarships

Scholarships are merit-based and awarded for academic excellence, outstanding talent, or extra curricular activities. Scholarships are one of the main funding options for students looking to study abroad.

Student financial support availability by country

Each country has unique conditions, payments and requirements for funding. Whether you’re looking to study in your home country or abroad, this list contains details on the five most popular EU countries for higher education study— Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom,

Germany

Unlike the UK, universities are state-subsidised and tuition fees (“Studiengebühren”) are zero or low cost. An average cost of €250 per semester covers enrolment, confirmation, and administration. Living costs are reasonable, and even so, there are plenty of options for student financial support. Considering Germany is another world-leader in education, particularly in the fields of art and science, its affordability makes it a popular destination.

  • BAföG

BAföG is a state scheme encouraging equal opportunities for those entering higher education. The amount awarded is based on household income and assets; half is in the form of an interest free loan, the other half is a grant which does not need to be paid back. Funding covers the entire length of the degree, although evidence of progress in studies is required.

Applications are sent directly to your HEI, and are limited to German nationals and residents. EU citizens must already live in Germany to be eligible. The BAföG is available to under 30s for undergraduate degrees, and under 35s for postgraduate.

A ceiling guarantees students only pay back a maximum of €10,000 of a loan, with repayments starting no later than five years after graduation.

  • Deutschlandstipendium (national scholarship)

Deutschlandstipendium is available to highly talented students, regardless of residency status. It’s a merit-based programme based on academic excellence, social commitment and personal achievement. The Deutschlandstipendium pays €300 per month, split equally between the state and private donors, such as alumni, enterprises or foundations. This amount doesn’t need to be paid back.

Applications are made directly to your chosen institution.

  • Bildungskredit

Bildungskredit is a loan option, available regardless of income and can be applied for in addition to the BAföG for undergraduates and postgraduates. The maximum loan amount is €7,200 which is paid in equal monthly amounts and spread over a 24 month period. Students must be under 36 years old, and repayments begin four years after the first payment, fixed at €120 per month.

Applications are made through the BVA website.

France

The French government is determined to make higher education as accessible as possible. Better still, according to Campus France, as of 2019 a budget of €10 million has been dedicated to improving the reception of international students in the country. The central government programme is the chief source of grants, making the process of obtaining student financial support easier than other EU countries.

  • CROUS (centre régional des oeuvres universitaires et scolaires)

CROUS is the public service of student life in France. They provide cheap accommodation and “in-kind” support, ranging from free health care and reduced meals at university restaurants. They provide a wealth of scholarships for national and international students, with 677 programmes available to search for on the CampusBourses Grant Search Engine.

  • Student loans (Prêts étudiants)

Prêts étudiants are provided for French nationals under the age of 28 by CROUS, and based on household income, with a cut-off of €33,000. Payments begin at €1,000 per year and rise to €5,000 per year, paid monthly over a 10-month period. Tuition fees are free with the scheme, and students are given priority to CROUS accommodation.

You’ll need to submit a DSE (Dossier social étudiant – Student Social Application) between 15 January and 31 May of the year study begins to be eligible for scholarships or loans. Applications are made via the government’s online portal.

  • Grande Écoles (“High Schools” in French)

Grande Écoles are prestigious private establishments outside of the French public system. They cater for a select few, but if you’re skilled enough to pass tough entrance exams and receive an offer, students at some Grande Écoles are considered civil servants as they are trained for roles in the public sector. Benefits include free housing in school-owned property, plus a monthly stipend of €1,350.

  • Caisses d'Allocations Familiales (CAF)

CAF offers student financial support for housing, in the form of rent rebates. Payments are available to EU students dependent on income, the type of housing, and rental cost. If successful, you could receive up to €100 per month paid directly into your account.

Applications should be made as soon as you’ve moved into your apartment, as the first payment is typically made two months after the initial application. Apply online at www.caf.fr.

Italy

The University of Bologna, founded in 1088, was the first of its kind in the world, and it was here the term “university” was first used. Due to its rich history, you’d be forgiven for romanticizing the idea of studying in Italy. In addition to its vibrant culture, the cost of living is cheaper in Italy than the UK and US. Basic tuition fees are €690, rising to €3,900 depending on income. However, there’s plenty of student financial support available.

  • ISEE certification

ISEE certification is Italy’s chief financial aid system based on income and assets. The certification is evidence of economic circumstances and is required before applying for scholarships or other forms of student financial support.

Unlike other EU countries, Italy offers the same eligibility to EU nations as Italian citizens. To apply, complete a DSU self-certification form on the INPS website. Once accepted, certification is valid for one academic year.

  • Education incentive Programme - Diritto allo Studio (DSU)

DSU offer scholarships once ISEE certification is acquired. Such scholarships are awarded yearly to full-time students who meet a combination of merit, income and attendance requirements. Amounts vary from €1,880 to €5,139. Applications are made directly to the HEI.

Spain

In 2013, a report by the European commission revealed 40,202 Erasmus students chose to study in Spain, making it the number one destination in Europe. Due to the country’s economic crisis, Spain isn’t the best option for student financial support; students have to pay at least 15-25% of study costs, depending on financial circumstances. In addition, emergency legislation means grants don’t cover more than 75% of study costs.

Because Spain is a decentralized unitary state, different regions have their own autonomous governments. This means there’s no centralized student loan system, but there are funding options at national, regional and local level, making grants the best way to support study.

  • Becas (scholarships)

Becas offered by the government are based on academic merit and financial need. Support ranges from €244 to €6,240 per year, averaging €2,500. Each autonomous region has its own application system. For example, Community of Madrid Excellence Scholarships offers up €3,000 for students in the Madrid region with excellent academic merit.

  • MAEC-AECID Grants and Assistantships programmes

For international students with fluency in Spanish (Level C1) the best option for scholarships is through MAEC-AECID Grants and Assistantships programmes. Call for applications are made yearly, with details of individual scholarships. Deadlines vary between April and May of the year of study. Applications are made on the AECID website.

United Kingdom

The UK is one of the most desirable destinations for students with world-renowned universities. According to the British Council, a UK degree is one of the most employable in the world; so much so, one in four world leaders studied in Great Britain. Arranging student financial support is necessary before indulging in tea-drinking and baked beans on toast.

Tuition fees and living costs aren’t cheap. In 2010, tuition fees were controversially raised from £3,225 to £9,000 per year. Some universities now charge £9,250 per year. However, the British government offers a number of options to ease the financial cost.

  • Tuition fee loans

Tuition fee loans are available to full-time undergraduate students. Universities are directly paid the full annual costs of tuition. All UK nationals are eligible. EU citizens who have lived in the UK for five years prior to the course, or those living in England on the first day of the first academic year of a course, are also eligible.

  • Maintenance loans

Maintenance loans provide student financial support for living costs. A maintenance loan is dependent on household income. Maximum amounts are broken down as follows:

-- Students living with parents are loaned up to £7,529. -- Students studying in London, and not living with parents, are loaned up to £11,672. -- Students studying outside London, and not living with parents, are loaned up to £8,944. -- Erasmus students living and studying abroad as part of your UK course are loaned up to £10,242.

Eligibility terms and the application is the same as a Tuition Fee Loan. Both loans are applied for at the same time, through GOV UK. Loans are repaid only when earning over £1,577 per month. The earliest repayment is the April following the completion of your course.

  • Maintenance grants

Maintenance grants are based on household income. Students whose household income is less than £25,000 per year receive a full grant of £3,644. If your household income is between £25,000 and £42,641, you’re entitled to a partial grant. You aren’t entitled to a grant if your household income over £42,641.

Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales, Student Finance Northern Ireland, and Student Awards Agency for Scotland process applications for Tuition Fee Loans, Maintenance Loans and Maintenance Grants in their respective country. You need to register at your university or college before the first payments are made.

Tuition Fee Loans are paid directly to your college or university in three instalments throughout the year, at the beginning of each term. Maintenance loans and maintenance grants are paid directly to you—so it’s up to you to budget well and spend wisely!

Apply online at GOV UK. Applications are valid up to nine months after the course starts, although UCAS recommends applying early as the process takes up to six weeks.

  • Bursaries

Bursaries are decided by your university dependent on financial circumstances. Like grants, they don’t have to be paid back. A separate application isn’t necessary; your university will calculate your entitlement based on your application for student financial support. Bursaries are paid yearly and vary depending on university—for example, the University of Sheffield offer up to £1,000 for each year of study.

  • Scholarships

Scholarships are a valuable source of funding. They’re merit-based but criteria varies massively and isn’t explicitly linked to exceptional talent. For example, the Graham Trust Bursary Scheme offers £500 for students with the surname Graham if studying in the Glasgow area.

Research by the Scholarship Hub discovered the UK has £150 million worth scholarships offering student financial support, every year, so a little research can go a long way. Scholarships are provided by universities directly, as well as charities and other organizations. However, the charity Turn2Us provides a directory of eligible scholarships.

Erasmus Plus: Student financial support for EU citizens studying abroad

The Erasmus programme is a student exchange programme for EU citizens looking to study abroad at universities across Europe. Erasmus+ was launched in 2014 and runs until 2020, with total funding of €14.8 billion providing support for over 4 million participants. The next scheme runs from 2021 to 2027 and has twice the budget at €30 billion, making the programme a top choice for student financial support.

The Erasmus+ programme provides opportunities for students who have completed at least one year of study at an HEI. The programme duration ranges from three to 12 months and students don’t need to pay additional tuition fees. The Erasmus+ grant is paid to students enrolled on the programme, arranged through your home university.

All options considered, money doesn’t have to be a limitation when deciding whether to take the leap and study abroad. Thanks to the wealth of student financial support available, studying across the world is possible, be it for a few months, or a few years.


Your money at N26

The N26 bank account is perfect for students studying at home or abroad, with ATM withdrawals in countries like the UK, Italy, and Austria and no hidden foreign transaction fees. Better still, keep track of how you’re spending your student financial support with automatic categorized spending.

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