Cut the cost of university

Students can leave university tens of thousands of pounds in debt. Sarah Moore offers some tips for making education more affordable.

More and more parents are aware that it's never too early to start saving for your child's university education. With tuition fees recently tripling from a maximum yearly amount of £3,000 to £9,000 under the last government, and living costs also rising sharply in many parts of the country, a three-year degree can end up costing as much as £75,000, according to the National Union of Students.

Students who aren't able to rely on help from family to pay some or all of their costs face the prospect of graduating with tens of thousands of pounds in debt. Even though these are likely to be state-provided student loans that can be paid off over decades, most people would prefer to avoid having that burden hanging over them for much of their working life. However, there are a few ways to soften the blow and make education more manageable for those who are struggling to afford it.

Can you get a scholarship?

First, while scholarships tend to be associated more with American universities where fees are so high that many people are unable to attend without one more are available in the UK than many people realise. These often have fairly specific conditions to qualify, such as being born in a certain area or being committed to a specific subject (such as engineering), but some are more general.

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The amount of support available can range from £500 (the Vegetarian Charity grant, for vegetarians or vegans), to £24,000 (the Desmond Tutu Scholarship, for applicants committed to helping the developing world).

Some universities that rank lower in the league tables also offer financial incentives to students with high grades, irrespective of their household income, in a bid to fill undergraduate spaces with good candidates.

These incentives often include discounts on tuition fees or cash contributions towards living costs, and can be worth as much as £10,000. In order to access these, students have to name particular universities as their "firm choice" on UCAS application forms. Obviously, it's important to consider whether the university would be a good choice for an able student regardless of the financial incentives.

Study in Europe

Second, if your child isn't dead set on attending university in the UK (and you won't be too upset not having them within a few hours' drive), it might pay to look abroad. For example, there are more than 2,100 study programmes in Holland that are taught entirely in English, ranging from short seminars to bachelor's and master's degree courses. Tuition fees for Dutch universities in 2016/2017 are €1,984 per year.

These tuition fees apply to all students who are citizens of the European Union. British students resident in the Netherlands for the duration of their studies are entitled to access Dutch tuition fee loans. It remains to be seen what would happen to students in this position if the UK votes to leave the EU.

Start saving early

Finally, the earlier you start planning and the more efficiently you save, the more manageable the costs will be. So make sure you make the most of the tax-free saving options available to your child aswell as yourself. On top of your own personal individual savings account (Isa) allowance, you can save for your child in a Junior Isa until they turn 18. This is a tax-free account, meaning you can save up to the annual allowance each year, which is £4,080 in 2016/2017. A Junior Isa can be used for cash savings or to invest in stocks and funds.

If your child already has a child trust fund (essentially, all children born between 2002 and 2011 had one set up for them), you can continue to add up to £4,080 per year to this, but it will usually be better to transfer the account to a Junior Isa, as the top choices pay better interest rates, have lower investment charges and offer more choice.

Sarah is MoneyWeek's investment editor. She graduated from the University of Southampton with a BA in English and History, before going on to complete a graduate diploma in law at the College of Law in Guildford. She joined MoneyWeek in 2014 and writes on funds, personal finance, pensions and property.