The REAL cost of university

Nobody goes to university without knowing they’ll take on debt. Fees are now £9250 a year, and that’s before you’ve even paid accommodation, food and bar bills – even subsidised beer will still set you back about £2.50 a pint.

Booze aside, there are so many ways to spend money as a student, so it’s not surprising more than a quarter of students say their first loan instalment lasts less than a month (Endsleigh) and just two per cent of students manage without an overdraft.

Students starting this September will rack up between £43,000 to £57,000 of debt, depending on how much parents help them, says the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) – the average debt will be just over £50,000. Some 71 per cent of students rely on money from their parents to make ends meet, research from Save the Student shows.

But most graduates won’t pay their loans back completely. More than three quarters will have some or even all their loans paid off by the government after 30 years, the IFS estimates – you only begin to repay it once your salary is above an earnings threshold.

Students take on two separate loans: one for fees, which is paid straight to the university – and a maintenance loan, which is paid into students’ bank accounts, normally in three instalments at the start of each term (maintenance grants were scrapped in 2015). These range from £8430 outside London to up to £11,002 for students in the capital – but this just isn’t enough to get by, say students.

 

So where does the money go?

Many students blow more than £120 on drink in freshers’ week. But rent takes the greatest chunk of money. At one of the cheapest student cities of Manchester, student accommodation costs £5000 for the 40 week year, and at Portsmouth, it’s even cheaper – typically between £3,900 to £4,300, whereas at Bath it can be up to £6300 for top of the range rooms, and of course London rents can be much higher. Plushest student accommodation, complete with en suite bathrooms, can cost at least £80 more a week than the cheapest rooms.

Typically students spend £821 a month – with nearly half of that - £394 - going on accommodation. They spend £126 a month on food, £69 on going out, £54 on bills (although university hall rents are usually inclusive) and £54 on travel, according to Save the Student’s latest figures. Add to that about £32 a month on books, £20 on mobile bills, £32 on clothes and £40 on other expenses. Even costs such as printing can take students by surprise.

Then there are one off costs of setting up as a student– accommodation deposits are usually a month’s rent up front, and there’s cost of bedding, furniture, cooking equipment and insurance. This year the law has changed on TV licences, so if you’re starting in September, you’ll need to buy a licence for all live viewing and recording – regardless of what channel you’re watching or device you’re using – mobile, laptop, games console. The £147 cost can be spread over the year, and you’ll get a refund for unused months when you’re not in student accommodation.

Student railcards cost £30 a year and National Express coach cards £25 for three years, and offer a third of standard fares. An NUS Extra card (www.nus.org.uk), at £12 a year or £32 for three years, opens up a whole range of student discounts on travel, eating out, fitness, even 10 per cent off at the Co-op and 25 per cent of some cinema tickets – an app helps you keep track of every current offer.

Setting a budget – and reviewing it regularly - is one of the most important steps you can take to keep control of your money, and there are plenty of mobile apps to help, using Save the Student, Brightside’s student calculator and tips from Money Saving Expert.

Banks will also advise, and they’re keen to snap up students. When choosing an account, it’s best to go for one which offers the best overdraft terms rather than short term freebies. All universities will offer financial advice and many websites have budgeting tools. 

Ask parents, other students – anyone in the know. Three in four students go to university wishing they’d had a better financial education. 

When asked if university offers value for money, students are torn, with 49 per cent agreeing, and 51 per cent saying it isn’t.

University, of course is about much more than the money, but it’s worth trying to stay on top of your cash.

Life, UniversityRuth Sparkes