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Career Management

Adding up uni expenses - Budgetting

How much will it cost you to be a student in higher education in the UK?

The answer to our introductory question depends to a large extent on what you study, where you live and how extravagant a lifestyle you aspire to.

There are two major financial elements to consider when planning your studies in the UK: course tuition fees and living costs. Tuition fees can be extremely complex to calculate, depending on whether you have 'home' or 'overseas' status, where you live in the United Kingdom and where you intend to study. 

For example, an English student starting at an English university in 2012 will have to pay tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year. A Scottish student starting a similar course in Scotland will pay nothing, while an overseas student in England will usually have to pay the full economic rate, which can range from around £11,500 a year for an arts or social science degree to around £15,100 for science or engineering and up to £27,300 for each of the clinical years of Medicine or Dentistry.

You may be able to reduce the impact of tuition fees by obtaining a grant, scholarship or bursary. Most higher education institutions (HEIs) provide details of possible financial support via each course entry profile on the UCAS website. Failing any other form of support, you may be able to secure a loan to cover your tuition fees for the duration of your course.

As for living costs, we identify the key components and illustrate how you can plan to manage your finances when living as a student.

Unless you are lucky enough to be offered free accommodation at home, or with friends or relations, you will find that getting a roof over your head will make the greatest demands on your non-tuition finances, usually taking away at least half and sometimes as much as three-quarters of your budget.

It is essential to find a suitable place to live, especially during the first 12 months. Everything else revolves around your feeling secure and comfortable- your attitude to student life, your ability to focus on studying successfully, your opportunities to make new friendships and so on. Will you, for example, be able to walk to your study centre or will you have to make a long and possibly expensive journey every day? Do you want to be surrounded by other students or do you crave peace and quiet?

Before you accept a place, contact the accommodation office at your chosen university or college to check out the service on offer. Is there official accommodation in a hall of residence? Will you get a priority place if you need to travel a long way to start your course? Are meals provided? Would you be expected to share a room? Can you inspect the accommodation before you sign any agreement? Does the accommodation office have a list of approved premises in the private sector?

Here are some key points to consider:

  • Cost - Ask especially how many weeks you have to pay for. Is it term-time only (in which case you would have to go home or find somewhere else to live during the vacations) or do you have to take out a full ten- or twelve-month rental agreement?
  • Catering - How many meals are supplied a day, if any? Are meals provided at weekends or Monday to Friday only? Do you have access to a kitchen to prepare your own meals?
  • Space - How big are the rooms? Do you have to share? Is there an en-suite bathroom?
  • Transport and travel - Will you be on-campus or many miles away? What sort of transport is available and how much does it cost?
  • Local services - Would you have easy access to a bank, shops and leisure facilities?
  • Insurance - Is there a comprehensive policy covering all students in a hall of residence? How secure are the doors and windows? Is crime a serious problem?

The average cost of university accommodation has risen by 22% in the past three years, according to a survey conducted last year by the National Union of Students (NUS).

The survey of 132 university and private sector landlords found the average weekly room cost had risen from £81.18 in 2006-07 to £98.99 in 2009-10.

There are huge regional differences in costs, according to the NUS. Students pay the most in London, where the average room costs £151 a week. In Northern Ireland, which is one of the cheapest places to live, it is just £68 a week.

Unless it's already included in your accommodation costs, food will be your second major expense. Unlike property rents, the cost of food is fairly similar all over the UK. London students tend, however, to spend more on food, perhaps because there are so many tempting restaurants and other places to eat!
Expect to spend around £50 each week making sure that you are reasonably well fed.

Going out
You may intend to devote all of your time to your studies but most students feel that socialising is an important part of their life at university or college. This is a serious lifestyle decision for each individual and it could cost you anything from nothing to over £100 per week, depending on how gregarious you are, whether you have a taste for expensive concerts or theatres and how determined you are generally to have a good time.

Books, photocopying and stationery
Books can be exceptionally expensive but you don't necessarily have to buy a new copy of every book mentioned by your tutors. Check to see how well stocked the library is in your subject area and find out whether there is a good second-hand bookshop. You will almost certainly have to photocopy some material and you will have to make sure that you have adequate supplies of paper.
You may need to allow around £6 a week to cover these items.

IT and other equipment
You may already own a computer and decide to bring it with you. If not, you could easily spend hundreds of pounds on a new machine! Do you really need it or does your university or college offer 24-hour IT facilities?

You may be required to purchase materials and equipment for some courses, especially in areas such as science and design.

It seems that no student can live in the 21st century without a mobile phone! How much it costs depends entirely on what sort of contract you sign up to. Many companies are keen to capture a slice of the student market and typically offer a free phone and iPad2 if you take out a 24-month contract costing around £35 per month. On the other hand, you might happily settle for a simple Pay-as-you-go phone or make free calls on your computer via Skype.

Even if you don't rush out every week to buy the latest fashions, you will need to allow a certain amount of money for new clothes. The average is around £15 per week but some students spend less, while many spend a great deal more.

You'll need to put some cash aside to wash your clothes and to keep yourself clean. You'll also have to pay for electricity and gas unless you are paying a fully inclusive charge in a hall of residence.

You may live on campus and walk everywhere but you could find yourself spending a small fortune if, say, you are living in a London suburb and have to commute every day to lectures in the centre of town.

It is generally not a good idea to drive your own car and we make no allowance for this in our calculations.

Other items
You may incur additional expenditure on items such as insurance, a TV licence, buying presents for friends and family, treating yourself to an occasional luxury or taking a weekend or more away from your studies from time to time.

How much does all that come to?
Put everything together and you'll quickly see why you need to be budgeting for non-tuition expenses of around £10,000 to £12,000 a year outside London and some £12,000 to £15,000 in London. How much you need to add for tuition depends on the factors outlined at the start of this feature.

You can try to offset some of the expense by getting a job, working for up to 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during the vacations. Your university or college should be able to give you further information on employment options in the area. Depending on how many hours you work in total and how well you are paid, you may be able to cover a large amount of the living costs outlined in this article.

Getting a loan
Tuition fee loans may be available to help pay the cost of your tuition fees. If you are eligible, they are paid directly to your university or college by the government.

Living cost loans – also called maintenance loans – are also available for eligible full-time students to help pay for such living costs as food, travel, accommodation and so on.

You don’t have to start repaying your tuition fee and living cost loans until you are earning more than £21,000 a year. Repayment is at a rate of 9% of your income over £21,000. If, for example, your salary is £25,000 a year, you pay 9% of £4,000 (£6.92 a week).

Interest is charged at the rate of inflation (based on the Retail Price Index or RPI) plus 3% from the date you take out the loan. Your repayments will be deducted automatically each month from your pay.

Forward planning
The key message is to plan your finances carefully in advance. If you have thought about your budget and worked out how to cover the inevitable expense of eating and sleeping, you can focus on your studies without fretting too much about money.

You might find it useful to read Debt-Free Uni: How to Maximise Your Chances of Graduating without Debt, a book by Gwenda Thomas (published by Trotman, 2011

Another useful aid is the Brightside Uniaid Student Calculator. Try it online at:


Tell me more!
Further information can be found at the following websites:

Future Students (England)



Northern Ireland

Students from EU member states

Non-EU international students






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