Access to Learning Fund (ALF) | University of Oxford
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Access to Learning Fund (ALF)

The Access to Learning Fund is based on national guidelines and assists Home students who experience financial difficulty.

The maximum award is £2,500 in an academic year and awards are usually paid in termly instalments.

Who is eligible to apply?

All current matriculated undergraduates and postgraduates who have Home fee status. Suspended and ELQ students are also eligible to apply. Students on modular postgraduate or part-time courses may apply but should note that assessments will be made on a pro-rata basis.

What should applicants be aware of before submitting an application?

Before applying, students must have taken out the full government support available to them, unless there is a good reason why this is not the case. This could include the undergraduate tuition and maintenance support, Master’s or Doctoral Loans, and benefits such as Disabled Students’ Allowance or Universal Credit.

The Access to Learning Fund can help to alleviate financial hardship, however it cannot be used towards fees.

The  fund is not intended to provide core funding for graduate students who were underfunded at the start of their course. Graduate students whose shortfall significantly exceeds the maximum available award of £2,500 will not normally be made an award unless a priority need is identified.

In assessing applications, guidance will be followed which assumes that a student receives a minimum income level per week, regardless of whether or not this is the case. It is expected that students will have made reasonable provisions for themselves and any dependants before beginning their Oxford course.

What is the application procedure and deadlines?

Applications for 2019/20 will be accepted on a rolling basis between Monday 7 October 2019 (Week 0 Michaelmas Term) and Friday 19 June 2020 (Week 8 Trinity Term).

Students can obtain a hardship application form through their college hardship officer. The hardship officer varies across colleges but could be the Senior Tutor, Bursar or Academic Administrator. Complete applications should be submitted by the college to Student Fees and Funding. The form include sections for the student, tutor or supervisor and college hardship officer to complete, and applications will only be considered when all sections have been received.

Once Student Fees and Funding receive a complete application and all required documentary evidence, we aim to process the application and communicate the outcome within four weeks. Please note it may take longer outside of term time. 

How are applications assessed?

Applications are assessed against all expected available savings and income, and essential expenditure for the current academic year. Any additional need is identified once these have been calculated. Essential expenditure is based upon the published lower range of living costs and the capping of certain costs, in line with national recommendations.

Students can only be given an award for costs incurred during the academic year. The period a student is assessed over is dependent upon the course length and expected completion date, and students should include all savings, income and expenditure for their appropriate period of study, regardless of when during the year they are applying. Periods of assessment are generally as follows:

Undergraduate students:  39 weeks from 01 October to 30 June.

Undergraduates with extended terms (e.g. final year Chemistry, PGCE): 43 weeks from 01 October to 31 July.

Medical students in their fourth, fifth or sixth year (second, third and fourth year Graduate Entry Medicine students): 52 weeks from 01 October to 30 September.

Taught Master’s students: varies depending on course length. The assessment will start from 01 October.

DPhil students: 52 weeks from 01 October to 30 September, unless the submission date is earlier.

Can students make repeat applications?

Students can submit an application in the current academic year even if they have applied in a previous year of their course. They can only reapply in the same academic year if their circumstances change substantially. Note the total maximum award per year is £2,500. Receiving an award in one year is no guarantee of a future award, therefore the fund should not be relied upon as a guaranteed source of funding.

How are students and colleges notified of the outcome?

The outcome of an application will be sent via email to the student, with their college copied in. Payment of any award will be made directly to the student, to the account specified in their application.

If the assessment determines a financial shortfall that is greater than the maximum ALF award of £2,500, students may be eligible to proceed their application to the University Hardship Fund. Student Fees and Funding will advise on this when communicating the outcome of the application.


If a student is not satisfied with the outcome of their application, they must submit an appeal in writing within 28 days of the date of the decision letter. Letters should be sent to the Chair of the University Hardship Committee, c/o Secretary of the University Hardship Committee, Student Fees and Funding, 3rd Floor, 4 Worcester Street, Oxford, OX1 2BX or to

Appeals will be considered by the Chair of the University Hardship Committee and the results of the appeal will be sent to the student within 28 days of receipt of the appeal, copied to their College.

An appeal must either:

(i) Contain new or more detailed information relating to the applicant’s situation which was not available to them at the time of their original application.  Applicants must be able to provide compelling reasons why the information was not available in the first instance, or

(ii) Dispute the application decision by demonstrating that the decision was procedurally flawed, for example that the decision was not taken in accordance with the funding criteria.

Case Studies

The following case studies are designed to give a better idea of some situations in which students are likely to make a successful or unsuccessful application to the Access to Learning Fund. Please note that all applications are assessed on an individual basis; if you require further advice on your particular circumstances please contact

Undergraduate Case Studies

Student A

Student A is an undergraduate in her final year of a BA course. She receives a tuition fee loan and maintenance loan from Student Finance England. Her parents have a household income that makes her ineligible for an additional means-tested maintenance loan from SFE or an Oxford Bursary. However, as Student A has two other siblings who are also currently at university, her parents are only able to make a contribution of £250 per term towards her living expenses. She did have some personal savings from summer job earnings at the start of her course, but does not have any left as they have been spent on living expenses during the first two years of her degree. She applies for hardship funding as she is struggling to pay her day-to-day living costs after spending her maintenance loan and most of her parental contribution for the term on her battels.

This student is successful in her ALF application and given a grant in her final year, as her essential expenditure is found to leave her with a funding shortfall, and she has already accessed all other government and Oxford support that is available to her.

Student B

Student B is an undergraduate in his first year of a BA course. He has taken out a tuition fee loan from Student Finance England for his fees, but his parents have agreed to cover his rent and pay him a monthly contribution for living expenses while he is studying at Oxford. He also has a £20,000 inheritance in a savings account, but is planning to use this towards a house deposit after finishing his degree. Halfway through the academic year, Student B’s mother is unexpectedly made redundant, and his parents are no longer able to pay for his rent or living expenses. He applies for hardship funding to help cover his living costs for the rest of the academic year.

This student is unsuccessful in his ALF application. This is for two reasons; firstly, he has not taken out the maximum government support available to him, and would normally be expected to apply for a maintenance loan before an ALF award would be made. Secondly, all available income must be taken into consideration when assessing applications, and he would therefore be expected to spend his savings before he would become eligible for ALF funding. 

Graduate Case Studies

Student C

Student C is a graduate student on a 12 month MSc course. She has taken out a UK master’s loan, which covers her fees, and she has an external scholarship worth £6,000 to use towards her living costs for the year. To supplement this income she has secured a part-time job in a library for 8 hours per week, which in addition will give her roughly £3,000 over the course of the academic year to pay the rest of her living expenses.  However, by Trinity term Student C is finding it harder to keep up with her academic work, and is concerned that her part-time job is putting her at a disadvantage compared to other students on the course. She applies for hardship funding to cover her living costs for the rest of the year.

This student is successful in her ALF application and given a grant in her final term, as her essential expenditure is found to exceed her income, leaving her with a funding shortfall. She has already accessed the government support that is available to her via the master’s loan and had arranged core funding before the start of her course which has ensured her situation is still financially viable despite her shortfall. 

Student D

Student D is a graduate student in his fourth year of a DPhil course. He had a full scholarship for the first three years of his course, which paid his course fees as well as a stipend for living costs. He had expected to complete within three years, but due to a change in Supervisor his project is taking longer than expected, and he must now find alternative funding for his final year. He has borrowed money from family to pay the continuation charges payable to the University and the college, and has secured a job as Junior Dean at his college in return for subsidised accommodation and a stipend of £2,300 for the year. He applies to the hardship fund as his stipend is not enough to cover all of his living expenses for the academic year.

Student D is unsuccessful in his ALF application. This is because the standard calculations used to make assessments include a Minimum Required Provision (MRP), which assumes that postgraduate students will have a basic level of funding in place to support their studies; in 2018/19 this is £177 per week for single students. This level of assumed funding must be included in the assessment, even though Student D’s actual income is significantly lower, as the Access to Learning Fund is only intended to provide a safety net for students in financial difficulty and should not represent their main source of support for covering core living costs. As the student only has minimal rent costs which form part of his essential expenditure, the ALF calculations do not identify a shortfall in his funding.

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