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UK Student University Living Costs

Everything you need to know about budgeting as a UK student  

David McDermottroe
Written by  David McDermottroe
Updated: 02 Feb 2024

The cost of university isn’t always just tuitions fees, but also accommodation, bills and more. Learn what these are and how to save money. 

How much does it cost to go to university?

The journey through university in the UK is accompanied by two significant expenses: tuition fees and living costs. While government loans and grants offer a helping hand, the expectation often falls on parents to make up the shortfall. It's essential to grasp the full picture of these costs to prepare adequately for the years of study ahead.

How much are university tuition fees?

Tuition fees are the price tag attached to your education, charged by every university and college across the UK. In England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, you're looking at a ceiling of £9,250 per year, while Wales caps it at £9,000. However, the fees you'll pay can vary widely depending on both the institution and your home region. For example, Scottish students benefit from free tuition when studying in Scotland, whereas their Irish and Northern Irish counterparts may pay up to £4,710 annually in Northern Ireland.

The landscape of university fees has seen considerable change, particularly since 2012 when the cap soared from £3,225 to £9,000 a year, and it has been creeping up with inflation ever since. The good news? The Student Loans Company offers a Tuition Fees Loan, which you'll only need to start repaying once you've crossed a specific earnings threshold post-graduation.

How much is student accommodation?

Accommodation is another significant chunk of the university budget, with options ranging from on-campus student halls to private rentals—or staying put at home for those able to commute. According to Save the Student in 2023, the average rent comes in at £535 per month, which translates to £6,420 annually. However, a Unipol/NUS survey in 2021 pegged the average student rent in the UK at £7,374 per year, jumping to £9,488 in the pricey capital of London.

Purpose-built student accommodations were found to average £166 per week for the 2021-2022 academic year. If you're eyeing a private ensuite room, expect to shell out around £155 weekly, while studio apartments can hit £228. In London, university accommodation typically costs about £212 per week. It's worth noting that hall rents often bundle in utilities and broadband, and sometimes even meals. Opting for ensuite rooms with cooking facilities will cost more, but sharing facilities can be a way to save.

When venturing into the private rented sector, costs can be less predictable. While some landlords include bills in the rent, others will require you to budget for utilities separately. Location is also a key factor; for instance, living near prestigious institutions like Imperial College London, UCL, or Oxford could set you back over £800 a month, whereas Queen’s University Belfast might be under £300.

If you live in private rented accommodation, you should buy students contents insurance to ensure your possessions are properly covered. Check if you’re covered on your parents’ home insurance – if not, your own policy will typically cost less than £100 a year.

The Student Loans Company also provides a Maintenance Loan for accommodation and living costs, with the amount you receive depending on household income and living arrangements. The maximum you can get is £13,022 per year if you're living away from home and studying in London. Should the Maintenance Loan not cover all your costs, it's expected that parents will cover the shortfall. Other sources of income might include part-time jobs, local authority assistance, bursaries, scholarships, and family contributions.

Student living costs

Beyond rent, living as a student means accounting for various other expenses. Some private accommodations may offer inclusive bills, but if not, you'll need to factor in these additional costs.

Energy

Your new home will likely have gas, electricity, or both. Energy bills come with a daily standing charge and a cost per unit of energy used. To keep these bills down, it's all about reducing consumption. And when it comes to payment methods, setting up a monthly direct debit is usually the cheapest way to go.

Water

Unlike energy, you can't shop around for your water supplier—it's determined by your location. Your water bill will either be based on metered usage or the size of your property.

Transport

Getting to and from university, part-time jobs, and the occasional trip home means transport costs need to be considered. Owning a car is very expensive and rarely a necessity for a student. Student car insurance can be expensive – typically above £1,500 a year. Walking or cycling are the cheapest options, while buses and coaches offer more affordable travel than trains, with various discount cards available to reduce fares further.

Food

The average student spends about £116 a month on groceries, according to Save The Student. Sticking to budget supermarkets and cooking at home can help keep this cost down. Meal planning, batch cooking, and sharing meals with housemates are also great ways to stretch your food budget.

Phone and internet

When it comes to staying connected, if you share a house with other students, you can split broadband costs between you. Compare the cheapest broadband deals with Moneysupermarket to find the best option for your household. For mobile phones, contracts that bundle the handset and service can be pricey. If you already have a phone, a SIM-only tariff can be a more cost-effective choice.

How to budget as a student

Your Maintenance Loan is paid in three installments at the start of each term, which forms the backbone of your budget. Add any income from parental contributions or part-time work to this loan amount to calculate your total income for the term. Then, tally up your term outgoings, which should include rent, utilities, phone bills, food, transport, books, and course equipment.

Ideally, your income should be higher than your outgoings. Any surplus can be allocated to non-essential spending—divide this by the number of weeks in the term to set a weekly budget. Sticking to a weekly budget for non-essentials is crucial to avoid running out of funds early in the term.

There are numerous budgeting apps available that can help you keep track of your finances, and some banking apps even allow you to set spending limits for different categories. If you find your outgoings are more than your income, it's time to look at ways to either increase your income or reduce your expenses.

Tips to save money as a student

Saving money as a student often requires a bit of creativity and resourcefulness. Here are some tips to help you stretch your budget further:

  • Explore financial assistance options from universities, charities, or organizations that cater to various student categories. Visit The Scholarship Hub to see if you can get a scholarship grant or bursary from a charity or other organization.

  • Consider part-time work, such as retail or bar work, or online tutoring to supplement your income. Full-time work during university holidays can also bolster your budget.

  • Many banks offer interest-free overdrafts for students, which should be used before resorting to credit cards or loans. Steer clear of 'buy now, pay later' schemes.

  • Sign up for cashback and discount websites and apps. The best include Topcashback, Quidco, Vouchercodes.co.uk, and Groupon. Also, join supermarket membership programs like Tesco Clubcard and Sainsbury's Nectar for cheaper prices.

  • Save on food by purchasing discounted 'yellow sticker' items or using the Too Good To Go app. Batch cooking and freezing meals is another great way to save.

  • For travel, consider cycling as an affordable and eco-friendly option, and look into safety gear and insurance for your bike. Coaches can be cheaper than trains for longer journeys, and discount cards can provide reduced fares.

  • Cut down on unnecessary expenses like smoking and recreational drugs to save a significant amount of money.

  • For entertainment, sign up to Central Tickets for last-minute deals or to SRO Audiences for free tickets to TV show recordings.

Embarking on your university journey with a solid understanding of the costs involved and a plan to manage them can make all the difference. With the right budgeting strategies and a willingness to seek out savings, you can enjoy your student years without the burden of financial stress. Remember, a little planning goes a long way, and there are always ways to stretch your student budget.