University – you know the fees, but what about the costs? | Education
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How much will you really spend in your first year at university? Accommodation costs at universities have soared in recent years, while everyday living costs continue to march upwards. As we explore here, rich students are being lured by super-luxe developments charging annual rents of above £20,000. Below we set out what a more typical student may spend on a room, the likely monthly costs for essentials such as food and studying materials – and work out what parents will have to stump up on top of the loans and grants.
Rent: Expect to spend about £600 a month
The typical student will pay around £140 a week for university-supplied accommodation in their first year, so expect to cough up a total of nearly £6,000 for a 40 to 42-week academic year, with London averages closer to £8,000.
Student rents have jumped by a third since 2011-12, rising at far more than the general rate of inflation, and now eat up 73% of the maximum cash available to students in the form of grants and, more likely, loans.
Unaffordable rents are a greater issue for studentsthan even tuition fees, with the average UK undergraduate expected to pay £147 a week, according to a National Union of Students-Unipol survey. That was for 2018-19, with those starting this year almost certainly paying more. Many fall behind, with 17,000 students in university rent arrears last year.
Some official residences now charge more than £20,000 a year. London School of Economics offers studio rooms at its Urbanest building in Lambeth on the south side of the Thames for up to £405 a week. For that, the student gets a 22.1m2 room (about the size of a large living-room) tied into a contract for 50 weeks a year costing £20,223.
The cheapest UK location for student accommodation is in Derry, Northern Ireland, where Ulster University charges £75 a week at its Coppin Hall residence, and says it has frozen prices since last year. You get a “spacious study-bedroom, fully equipped with a bed, desk, chair, wardrobe and bedside locker”. Other notably cheap universities for accommodation are Bradford, Huddersfield and Bangor, which all offer private rooms in the £80 to £85 a week bracket.
Oxford is curiously cheap. Although the city has some of the UK’s highest house prices, heavily subsidised in-college student accommodation is typically about £4,000 a year, while three meals a day will add a further £1,600.
Students (and their parents) are faced with a bewildering number of options at the major metropolitan universities. For instance, Bristol offers 25 options to new undergraduates, ranging from £107 to £167 a week for self-catered units and up to £201 a week (£8,450 a year) for catered rooms.
Look out for contract length: for instance the University of East Anglia offers a minimum 38-week licence for a room, whereas York charges for a minimum of 40 weeks and Leeds 42. UEA’s shared twin rooms are great value, if you can stomach living with someone else.
Second-year students moving into the private rented sector frequently underestimate other costs such as broadband and water charges, which can add up to £200 a month for a large shared household. Remember, full-time students don’t have to pay council tax. Also factor in that private landlords will require students to pay rent all year, so bills are payable throughout the long summer holiday – even though you may not be there.
Many students say the only viable route to tackling rent is to protest. Matthew Lee, a third-year student at UCL in London, says: “In my first year I was in hall, paying around £200 a week. The rent was more than my student loan. The university had very, very little alternative accommodation cheaper than that.
“They should be developing cheaper accommodation. Instead, what we’re seeing is old halls demolished and redeveloped into luxury accommodation with massive rent increases.”
Lee is part of rent-strike.org, and says protests against UCL rents – such as a rent strike by 1,100 students in 2016 – have won millions in compensation, bursaries and rent cuts. The movement has spread across the UK, with “Cut the rent” campaigns springing up from Aberdeen to Sussex.
In a statement, UCL said it “provides some of the most affordable accommodation in central London when compared to equivalent London institutions and the private sector.
“Keeping rents as low as possible for residents is a top priority and we have agreed to freeze rents on 21% of rooms at the lowest price bracket for the 2019/20 academic year.”
Living: a typical student will spend £375 a month
The typical student will spend around £375 a month One the hardest calls for first-timers students – and more likely their parents – is identifying how much they are going to need to get through each month.
The website Save the Student recently asked 3,385 students where, after rent, all their money goes – an amount totalling about £376 a month.
Students told researchers that they spend just over £20 a week (or £92 a month) on basic food shopping and supermarket-bought booze – plus a further £34 a month on takeaways.
The next biggest expense is £50 a month on entertainment – which equates to just £11 a week. Transport costs – getting to and from university at the start and end of term, plus the cost of getting to classes on a daily basis – are surprisingly high, at £44 a month. Household bills and clothes account for about £30 a month, while mobile phone and course materials account both come in at about £17 a month.
Once holidays (£24 a month) and gym memberships (£13 a month) are added – plus, according to the survey, an average of £4 a month on illegal drugs – it gives a grand total of £376. This figure disguises the regional variations – clearly students in London will need significantly more spending money than those living in Bangor or Ulster.
One of the big ways to reduce spending is to choose accommodation close to where you will be studying. Even bus fares across, say Manchester, will really add up, meaning a more expensive but better-located halls of residence could be cheaper in the long run.
A bicycle will save a fortune if you have to cross a city each day. The cost of public transport is another reason to avoid studying in London, especially if the hall of residence is in a outer zone area.
Other “hidden” costs to factor in are things like a television licence (£154.50 a year), which you will need if you want to watch live TV or catch-up on iPlayer. Other catch-up services don’t require a licence.
Then there’s insurance to cover the cost of your belongings. If you need insurance to cover your belongings while away from home, Moneysupermarket recently said the average cost of contents cover for young people is £63 a year. If you just have an expensive laptop, it may be a better bet to rely on your parent’s home insurance instead.
First-year students in halls will avoid gas and electricity and other bills, such as broadband, but generally face higher “going out” costs. But there’s other start-up costs – pots, pans, kettles, duvets, and so on – depending on the accommodation package provided by the university. It’s a good idea to cosy up to grandparents and tell them about the £35 five-pan cookware deal in Asda or the £30 and £80 student starter packs at Ikea.
Parents: It’s likely to cost you around £2,000 a year
Every week Save the Student says it receives emails from parents asking how much they can expect to pay, and the answer for many is: probably more than you were expecting. Only students who come from households that have an income of £25,000 or less will be entitled to receive the full £8,944 a year maintenance loan, which is supposed to cover a student’s living costs – but with rents at £6,000 or more, it rarely does. If the household income is greater than £25,000, the government expects the parents to make a contribution. It is all now means-tested, with the highest earners expected to hand over most.
If the parents have a joint household income of £35,000, the student is entitled to a maintenance loan of £7,661, so there is a minimum parental contribution of £1,283 a year. This will give the student a total of £8,944, the minimum the government expects them to receive.
Those coming from a £50,000 income household can apply for a maintenance loan of £5,735, with the parents expected to stump up £3,209 a year. Once the household income goes above £62,215, the parent is expected to contribute £4,776 a year.
These figures apply in England, and are for those students who are moving away from home, and studying outside London. Those heading to the capital can borrow up to £11,672 a year – which is again means-tested, and requires similar parental contributions.
The problem is that for many students, the total of just under £9,000 a year is not going to cover their basic living costs. Students are typically left with a £3,000 shortfall, so their parents will either have to cover it, or the student has to work or borrow the rest.
Save the Student says in its 2018 survey, students reported receiving an average of £138 a month from parents. But a frequent complaint is that they just don’t get sufficient parental contributions. The way the scheme is administered penalises those with large families who might have more than one student studying at any one time, as this is not taken into account.
On the flipside, some parents do not want their student offspring to be racking up such big debts, and will contribute far more than the required amount.
It’s worth noting that household income calculation are often gamed. Divorced couples frequently choose to house their student son or daughter with the parent on the lowest income – meaning they receive a higher government-backed loan. If you are planning to retire, you might want to bring it forward, particularly if you have more than one child heading to university.
To work out your expected contribution, go to the official student finance calculator for England.