University students in England now pay the highest fees in the world, according to a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). And that’s before you take into account that universities may be able to increase annual tuition fees above £9,000 under draft government plans to reward the best courses. It’s little wonder that some people are thinking twice before deciding to embark on a higher education adventure at a university campus.

Encouragingly, the same report from the OECD also shows that those with degree-level qualifications earn around 60% more than those with only secondary-level education, an impressive return on investment by any standards. Even so, the level of debt incurred by students in the UK is still a daunting prospect.

So, do prospective students need to grin and bear it, or is there anything you can do to reduce the cost of a university degree?

1. Look for scholarships, fee waivers and bursaries

Universities that charge over £6,000 per year are obliged to offer financial assistance to students from lower income backgrounds. In addition, many universities and some charities offer regular sources of funding to students based on other factors, such as academic excellence, sporting prowess or musicianship.

There are three major types of funding to look out for: bursaries, scholarships and fee waivers. Scholarships and bursaries are similar, in the sense that the money is given up front. The major difference between the two is that scholarships tend to be aimed at students with excellent academic records, whereas bursaries are usually designed to support students from low-income families.

A fee waiver on the other hand pays part (or occasionally all) of a student’s tuition fees, thus reducing the amount of money they need to borrow as part of their student loan.

2. Study online

Another option for the cash-strapped student-to-be is studying online. Distance learning degrees often work out considerably cheaper than those that involve attending a campus.

While a BA Honours degree at most universities can set you back £9,000 per year – equating to £27,000 for a three-year course – studying online with an institution like Arden University will cost you just under £12,000 for the whole course. That’s less than half the price.

What’s more, online university courses are still eligible for student finance, meaning that if you meet the criteria, you can still apply for a student loan to cover the costs of studying.

3. Look for employers that will sponsor your studies

If you have a career in mind, you could be lucky enough to study for a degree without the fees. By sponsoring students, employers end up with a graduate who is highly-trained and knows their company in-depth.

Typically, sponsorships like this involve working with the company during holidays or part-time and studying for a degree the rest of the time. There are many companies who have developed specific recruitment programmes involving this approach, including Experian, KPMG, Capgemini, and CGI. However, even if an employer doesn’t have a specific course developed, it could be worth approaching them to find out if it’s something they would consider.

Similar to this is the Government’s expanding degree apprenticeships programme, where apprentices split their time between university study and the workplace. Those undertaking the apprenticeships are employed throughout – gaining a full bachelor’s or master’s degree while earning a wage and getting real on-the-job experience in their chosen profession.

4. Earn while you learn with a part-time course

Even if you decide not to go down the route of an employer-sponsored degree, studying part-time can help you earn while you learn and off-set the cost of the tuition fees.

Admittedly, not all university courses are offered part-time, but again this is where online distance learning can really come into its own.

“All our courses are offered with the option of studying part-time,” says Dr Philip Hallam, Vice Chancellor and CEO at Arden University. “We believe it gives people much more flexibility, not just in terms of when they study, but also how they choose to pay for their studies. We even have a ‘pay-as-you-go option’ for those who can’t afford the full fees up front.”

5. Avoid accommodation and maintenance costs

Many students take out maintenance loans to cover their living costs at university, in addition to the loans for tuition fees. While many people want to live away from home to get the real ‘student experience’, if you’re serious about cutting costs don’t discount staying put.

If you’re lucky enough to already live near a university that offers what you want to study, or perhaps have relatives nearby one that does, then avoiding accommodation costs is a great way to cut down on the amount you need to borrow.

If you’re not so lucky with your location, you still don’t necessarily have to take on the extra debt. Again, online distance learning could be the solution which allows you to study while you save on living costs. Really, the only question is whether you can stick it out with your family for a little bit longer!

Studying for a degree should be challenging, but it should be challenging for the right reasons. If you’re worried about finances then make sure you look into all the options – there are more out there than you would think.

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