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Funding at college

Information on the different types of funding available to blind and partially sighted young people for college.

Funding may be available to you at college if you start a further education course or an Apprenticeship.

A growing number of colleges also offer degree level courses. For funding information on higher education, please visit our Starting university pages.

Tuition fees

In England you can get free education up to the age of 19. This can be extended up to age 25 if you have a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment (or an Education, Health and Care Plan from September 2014).

From age 19 onwards you'll usually have to pay fees unless you're getting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and are in the Work Related Activity Group, or you're unemployed and receiving Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA).

You can also get fee remission (meaning you don't have to pay fees) if you're studying one of the following:

  • a basic Literacy or Numeracy course
  • an Entry Level or Level 1 course
  • GCSE Maths or English (and you have not already passed at Grade C or above)
  • your first full Level 2 qualification
  • your first full Level 3 qualification (and you're under 25)

Individual colleges can use their discretion to provide support to people with sight loss who don't meet these conditions but who find it difficult to afford course fees. This might be the case if you receive income-related benefits or you're doing a specific course for students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. You should speak to the Learning Support Adviser or Disability Officer at your college to find out if you might be eligible.


Many colleges run Apprenticeship programmes. These are a great way to learn on the job while studying for a nationally recognised qualification. You can do an Apprenticeship in many different areas ranging from accountancy to textiles, engineering to veterinary nursing, business administration to construction.

Apprenticeships are available at three levels:

  • Intermediate: equivalent to five A*-C GCSE's
  • Advanced: equivalent to two A Levels
  • Higher: equivalent to Level 4 and above qualifications.

Funding for Apprenticeships is available at all levels. If you're aged 16-18, 100% of your training costs will be paid by the government. If you're aged 19-24, only 50% of your training costs are guaranteed. However some additional funding may be available through the National Apprenticeship Service to encourage employers to take on young people with sight loss.

Apprentices do real jobs in a real workplace earning money at the same time. There is no set rate of pay but all employed apprentices must receive at least £2.65 per hour. The average wage per week for an apprentice is around £170 and in some job roles, around £210 per week.

24+ advanced learning loans

You may qualify for a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan to pay your college tuition or training fees. Most learners aged 24 and over, studying at level 3 and above, will qualify for these government loans. Your household income isn't taken into account and there's no credit check. You won't have to pay anything back until your income is over £21,000 a year. You can start applying in April 2013 for courses starting in September.

Support costs

Further education providers receive funding in order to provide reasonable adjustments and make sure learners with a disability or impairment have the support they need. Generally therefore you can expect your college to cover extra educational costs related to your sight loss. This is paid for out of their Learning Support (LS) funds. There is a variety of support and equipment that a college might offer and they will look at what works best for you.

Some examples of support are:

  • a support teacher or worker, or a sighted guide
  • materials in alternative formats such as braille or large print
  • assistive computer technology e.g. closed-circuit television, computers with screen reading software and text magnification.

If you need a computer with special software the college should provide one for you to use on campus. However, it remains the property of the college and it's unlikely you'll be allowed to take it home.

The college should also give you support with the training-related aspects of an Apprenticeship. This will be paid for through the LS fund. You may also be able to receive Access to Work support to help you when you are on the job.

Bursary funds

You may receive a bursary if you're aged between 16 and 19 and have difficulties paying for the costs of full-time education or training.

The 16-19 Bursary Fund scheme is made up of two elements:

  • A bursary of £1,200 if you're considered to be vulnerable. You're considered to be vulnerable if you're in care or a care leaver or getting income support or getting both Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Disability Living Allowance. If you qualify your college will pay you directly.
  • Help under a discretionary fund. You can get help under the discretionary fund if you need help with things such as the costs of transport or equipment. Your school or college will decide how much to pay and how regularly to pay it. Payments can be in kind (such as a transport pass) rather than in cash. Payment could also be linked to your behaviour or attendance.

Discretionary Learner Support is aimed at students aged 19 or over who find it difficult to meet certain costs while at college, for example, because they have a low income or have a disability. Each college has their own policy on who is eligible for funding and what they will provide grants for. Discretionary Learner Support can be used to pay for childcare and related transport costs, course materials and equipment, transport to and from college, course field trips and accommodation.

Specialist colleges

If you're applying to residential or specialist colleges, you'll need to show that your local mainstream college can't meet your needs. You need to apply to your Local Authority. If your application is approved, the Local Authority will apply for funding from the Education Funding Agency (EFA). Social Services may contribute towards a place at a residential college if you need a lot of care support.

Alternative funding

You can apply for alternative funding from a variety of organisations to help support the costs of your studies. For further information download our list of grant awarding charities which may assist blind and partially sighted students.

Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)

The ESFA funds young learners in England between 16 and 19 years old, or up to the age of 25 if they have a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment. The EFA has various offices across the UK. Visit the Department of Education website for further details of your nearest office.

Disability Rights UK

The Disability Rights UK student helpline provides free information and advice to disabled students about the funding available in further education, higher education and work-based learning such as Apprenticeships. The helpline can also advise on students' entitlement to welfare benefits. You can call them on 0330 995 0414 (Opening hours 11am-1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays) or email them at [email protected].

Further information

Further information on funding further education for disabled students in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can be found by visiting the Government website.

Local Authorities have a duty to provide appropriate education and training for young people up to 19 and up to 25 for those with a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment.