Some Muslims and members of other faiths may be deterred from taking out the UK government's student loans, due to the interest payment system.
We have prepared this page of information for undergraduate and postgraduate students who need to finance their education, and who also have questions or concerns about Sharia compliance.
Most UK banks offer home undergraduates a student bank account with an overdraft facility which is interest-free up to a specified limit. The same bank may at the same time charge non-students interest on an overdraft.
The UK government offers eligible undergraduate students a Tuition Fee Loan and Maintenance Loan as part of the Student Finance funding system in the UK. These student loans incur interest on the repayments. Before 2012 this interest was set at the rate of inflation, not at a commercial rate. Therefore, the value of the amount repaid was the same as the value of the amount borrowed. However, since 2012, interest is charged at the rate of inflation plus 3 percent during the period of study. The interest rate then varies after studies, between the rate of inflation only and inflation plus 3 percent, according to earnings.
A new system of Postgraduate Loans for Masters' degrees in the UK has been introduced from the 2016-17 academic year onwards. Students aged 60 and under can borrow a maximum of £10,000 to help pay tuition fees and/or living costs for both taught and research based Masters' programmes. Interest will be the current RPI(Retail Prices Index) plus 3% with repayments normally due from the April following course completion, but students taking out a Postgraduate Loan in 2016-17 will not have to repay this until 2019 so they will have a year's break. See our Postgraduate Funding advice guide for more information about Postgraduate Loans.
In addition to the Postgraduate Loans Scheme, the government has also announced a separate PhD Loans Scheme for student starting from 2018-2019 onwards, aimed at students without Research Council funding, as a means of expanding access to PhD study for postgraduates. Exact details of the PhD Loans have yet to be confirmed. There is more information here.
Some other loans for study do attract a commercial rate of interest. For example, some students may choose to take a Professional and Career Development Loan (PCDL) or other form of bank loan to fund their studies (especially for postgraduate study). Some people believe that this is not Sharia-compliant while others believe that if such a loan is crucial to a student accessing education, then it can be.
It is important to understand that if you decide for faith reasons not to take a loan for your studies, this may have an effect on your eligibility for other sources of funding. You would need to find alternative funding such as family, friends, savings, etc, to cover the cost of your education. Some factors you may wish to consider are:
- There are University Financial Assistance Funds at QMUL to help students facing financial hardship. If you are a home undergraduate student who is eligible for UK government Student Finance, you can only apply to the University Financial Assistance Fund if you have taken your full Maintenance Loan entitlement. If you are a home postgraduate student, you must have made provision to pay your tuition fees and basic living costs
- Banks often want to see evidence of a Maintenance Loan before opening a student account with the interest-free overdraft facility
- Some trusts and charities specifically exclude students who are entitled to a Maintenance Loan, whether they have taken it or not
- If you are entitled to claim welfare benefits as a student, the office assessing your benefit claim will assume you have taken your loan entitlement and will reduce your benefit entitlement accordingly
However, it is worth noting that some elements of government Student Finance are not repayable. These include supplementary grants for dependants or disability related course costs. If you started your course before 2016, you might qualify for a Maintenance Grant, depending on your household income. You might wish to discuss possible options with a Welfare Adviser in the Advice and Counselling Service.
The UK government has been exploring the possibility of an Alternative Finance system available alongside traditional student loans that will avoid the payment of interest but results in identical repayments to the conventional system. This funding would be Sharia (Shariah, Shari’ ah) compliant and overseen by a Sharia advisory committee. The UK government undertook a public consultation ending in September 2014 which has resulted in an agreement to offer an Alternative Finance product. This 'Takaful' product has received preliminary approval from Al Rayan Bank's Sharia supervisory committee and chapter 4, paragraphs 27-36 of the November 2015 government green paper 'Fulfilling our potential Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice [PDF 2,197KB] sets out the details of this. The latest available information is set out on pages 59 and 60 of the government's White Paper 'Sucess as a knowledge economy' [PDF 13,948KB] published in May 2016, which explains that the government is committed to introducing the new product, however there are currnetly no timescales for this.
Some financial institutions have Sharia-compliant financial services. They guarantee that money held in these accounts is not invested in industries such as gambling, alcohol or weapons manufacturing.
Trusts and Charities
If you are a Muslim student and have secured your main source of funding for your studies, you may be eligible for some additional financial help from the National Zakat Foundation. Detailed advice about eligibility and the different areas they may be able to offer help with are set out on their website.