Access to Learning Fund (ALF)

The 2013/14 Access to Learning Fund (ALF) is now open.

Please read all guidance which accompanies the application form (Word - 352KB) in full.

Once complete, in order to process your application as quickly as possible, it is recommended that you submit your form and all necessary supporting documentation electronically via the online enquiry service

What is the Access to Learning Fund? 

ALF is a discretionary grant, funded by the government, to help students in financial difficulty. ALF grants do not need to be paid back and can range from £100 to £3,500.

This fund is intended to assist with general living and course-related costs, not tuition fees or 'lifestyle choices'.

All applications are means-tested, therefore some applications will be unsuccessful.

What is financial hardship?

Everyone’s definition of financial hardship is different. However, as the Access to Learning Fund (ALF) is a government-funded scheme administered by the University, we are bound by their definition, namely that “hardship occurs where reasonable expenditure exceeds expected income”, as well as by the fund's administrative framework.

For undergraduates, your “expected income” is defined as the maximum statutory support you are eligible to receive. To establish this you will need to apply to be means-tested by your relevant Student Loan Company agency (or the NHS if applicable) and will need to have taken out the maximum Tuition Fee Loan available to you.

Postgraduates (in addition to paying your tuition fees) are expected to have funding in place to meet your day-to-day living costs and course costs for the entirety of your studies before commencing your course (the basic level of this is known as your Notional Postgraduate Income (NPI) and is currently set at a minimum of £170 per week).

The ALF guidance describes “reasonable expenditure” for students as being equal to the amount someone in the same circumstances would receive in welfare benefits if they were not a student.

Financial hardship, according to ALF, should therefore not be from a lack of budgeting and/or poor cash management. Students who may be affected by these issues should visit our budgeting web pages, seek advice from the Advice and Representation Centre (ARC) in the Guild or attend one of our workshops on financial capability skills.

The full ALF guidance is published each year by the Government.  In areas where discretion is allowed, the University publishes its own policy guidance document (Word - 17KB).  

Who can apply?

Generally, in order to qualify for ALF support you must:

  • be a registered student at the University of Birmingham
  • be classed as a home student
  • have taken up all statutory support that is available to you
  • if part-time, be studying at least 30 credits or 25% of an equivalent full-time programme

Students on programmes validated by the University (eg Applied Theological Studies/Islamic Studies/Dental Hygene and Therapy) are not eligible to apply.

Certain groups of students are deemed to be priority cases for ALF support. These groups include students from lower-income families, final-year undergraduate students, students with dependants, students with disabilities and students entering the University from care.

You can only make one application to ALF per year. If your circumstances change, you are entitled to apply for a 'review' of your application. 

Am I likely to receive an award?

Firstly it is important to say that any student in genuine financial difficulty should always apply to the ALF as the University will try and help in any way that it can, if at all possible.

We have constructed an online ALF eligibilty checker which will give you an indication of whether you might qualify for an award or not. All you need to do is click the relevant link and answer a few questions:

Furthermore, we acknowledge that “reasonable expenditure” figures have been set at an extremely low level and therefore our own analysis shows that only certain types of students tend to be successful when it come to receiving an award from the ALF. These include:

  • first year students who have Halls of Residence to pay for
  • UG final year students who have a reduced rate of Student Loan
  • NHS-funded students as the their funding tends to be less generous
  • Year Abroad students as accommodation costs tend to be higher

Those who tend to be less successful are:

  • postgraduates as we are required to apply a Notional Postgraduate Income (currently set at £170 per week) to their assessment
  • second year students as they tend to live in cheaper private accommodation

How can I apply?

You must complete an ALF application form and Supporting Evidence Checklist (Word - 352KB). You must also provide photocopied or scanned copies of all supporting documentation that is requested therein, as originals will not be returned.

We cannot make a decision on your application until you provide all requested supporting documentation and sign the Supporting Evidence Checklist. To find out what you will need to provide, please refer to the guidance included in the application form.

It is recommended that you submit your form and supporting evidence electronically, as an attachment, via the student enquiry service.

What happens after I apply?

You should receive a decision on your application within four weeks of the application being considered complete. You will be notified via the online enquiry service.

You are entitled to appeal an ALF decision if you feel that your circumstances have not been fully taken into account. 

Where can I get more advice?

For advice on completing your application form or on managing financial difficulties, please contact the ARC at the Guild of Students or contact the Counselling and Wellbeing team.

If you have any queries about the Access to Learning Fund, please contact the Student Funding Office.


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