Mature Students: Putting a jingle in your pocket

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UNTIL RECENTLY, local education authorities (LEAs) were able to furnish adults' bank accounts with a pounds 1,000 allowance for being a mature student, but the tightening of governmental purse strings has unfortunately done away with the initiative. Consequently, LEA grants for mature students now follow a similar process of application and award as those received by younger undergraduates.

If applying for a first degree your LEA will cover the cost of tuition fees through a mandatory grant, so - providing you have not previously undertaken a degree course that you failed to complete - you will not have to pay the full cost yourself. Your LEA, however is only obliged to pay for tuition expenses; anything in addition to that will take the form of a discretionary maintenance allowance.

Maintenance grant are means-tested and are intended to pay for the costs incurred as a result of student life, such as accommodation, books or equipment. Paid three times a year, a maintenance grant must be applied for annually throughout the duration of your course in order to adapt to any possible developments in your financial circumstances.

Variables such as employment, savings and where you are studying are all taken into account. The award is calculated at three levels with the most being given to mature students who are living away from home, for instance in halls or lodgings, and studying in London (which is roughly defined as being within the M25). The next band is for those studying elsewhere in Britain and the least amount goes to those who commute to their institution from their permanent home. Your local DSS office will give you information concerning extra entitlements to pay for expenses such as childcare or simply to make recompense for your lack of income as a student.

Since the Dearing Report, adult students may be liable for tuition fees of up to pounds 1,000 (although your contribution is means-tested and adults with a low income may pay less or nothing). It is clear that students will find it harder to meet the costs of a university education so student loans are the only method of keeping afloat for many.

Most British students are eligible for low-interest student loans. A student can apply for one loan each year with the choice of payment in one, two or three instalments. The value of the loans is dependant on the same categories as a maintenance grant with a reduction in the maximum allowance in your final year. The amounts range from roughly pounds 1,500 to pounds 2,500.

The conditions for repayment are equally subject to change but the loan is substantially easier on the student wallet than borrowing from a bank or building society and no money is repaid until the graduate has gained paid employment.