Students’ cost of living revealed


SCAN investigates the high costs of living for the average Lancaster student and questions whether the current government support schemes are enough. With the recent news of the cuts to both the Student Opportunity and Access to Learning funds, the current difficulties facing students has the potential to become even worse.

In Week 5, a Union Council meeting also addressed the issue of the cost of living for students at Lancaster in a discussion, which was led by LUSU Counsellor Liz Houghton. In a document presented to Union Council, Houghton used a budget provided by the University of York of the estimated costs of maintaining a student lifestyle. Their ‘average student’ is based on the typical able bodied undergraduate student aged 18-21 with no caring responsibilities. While excluding rent, they estimate that this average student can expect to spend a total of £3,960 per year on food, toiletries, course related costs, insurance, laundry, social and sporting activities, and mobile and TV costs.

Similarly the National Union of Students (NUS) has estimated how much a full-time higher education undergraduate in England spends on average in an academic year (a standard 39 week period). These estimates are based on a number of sources, such as the government’s Student Income and Expenditure Survey and the NUS/Unipol Accommodation Costs Survey.

Excluding the cost of rent, the NUS predicts that students will spend a total of £1,956 for food, £316 for household goods, £42 for insurance, £2,074 for personal items, £1,524 for travel and £1,310 for leisure, coming to total of £7222.

The NUS Cost of Living supporting document from Houghton’s report also points out that it is important to consider that estimating ‘average’ costs is difficult because there are many factors such as the institution, course and part of the UK the student lives in, as well as their personal circumstances, which can influence the grants, loans and benefits they are entitled to.

When looking specifically at accommodation on Lancaster’s campus, it is possible to put living costs of the ‘average’ Lancaster student into perspective. Houghton reports that when excluding catered accommodation and studio flats, the cheapest accommodation on campus is £86.10 per week for a 40 week rent, which comes to £3,456. Using York’s estimated cost of living then this takes the estimated annual cost of living for this student to £7,416. At the other end of the spectrum, the most expensive accommodation on campus is £131.25 per week for a 40 week rent, which comes to £5,250 a year. Again taking York’s budget, the estimated annual cost of living for this student to £9,210.

Members of Union Council also highlighted how York do not have many arts courses, and that these types of courses can substantially increase living costs due to the extra materials required.

The issue facing students is how they will cover these fees. Students eligible to apply for Student Finance in England and can receive a maintenance loan, however you must be a full-time English student. Part-time students, EU students, and students aged 60 or over can’t apply. Some students can also receive grants but again, they must be a full-time English student.

Maintenance loans are linked to household income and the maximum amount that can be received is £5,500 for a student living on campus at Lancaster. Therefore this loan will just about cover the cost of the most expensive accommodation rent on campus.

In some circumstances, students can also receive a maintenance grant. However, this then has a knock-on effect on the amount of a maintenance loan they can receive, reducing the amount. As a result, the largest support package anyone can receive from the Student Loan Company for this academic year is £7,177. Therefore complying with Houghton’s earlier figures, this shows that even the largest government support package does not cover the cost of living for either the student living in the most expensive accommodation, or the one living in the cheapest; it only covers the rent.

Currently, there are very few options to cover these remaining living costs, aside from family support, or a part time job. The National Minimum Wage for anyone between 18-21 years old is £5.03 and the National Association of Student Employment Services recommends that full-time students do not work any more than 16 hours a week. So, if a student were to work the maximum amount of hours at minimum wage they would potentially earn £80.48 a week.

However Houghton points out that if students are working flat out doing the maximum 16 hours a week to support themselves financially, they will have less time to spend on their actual degree, less time to get involved in clubs and societies or representative roles as well as any of the other activities deemed an important part of the university experience. She suggests that this will in turn damage their employment prospects and even their emotional wellbeing. Furthermore, she points out the problem of there being more students than there are part-time jobs. In a small city such as Lancaster, this makes the opportunity even more difficult.

The other option she suggests are the bursaries offered by Lancaster. For example:

  • An Academic Scholarship of £2,000 for the first year of study to any student from the UK entering with A*,A*,A or equivalent academic qualifications.
  •  An Access Scholarship of £1,000 per year for all UK students from households with an income of less than £42,600 who achieve grades of A*A, A or the equivalent academic qualifications.
  • A Lancaster Bursary of £1,000 per annum for all students from England with a household income of more than £25,000 but less than £42,600.
  • As part of the National Scholarship Programme, a £2,000 Bursary in the first year of study, for students from England with a household income of less than £25,000. Plus a Lancaster Bursary of £1,000 in subsequent years. The NSP is currently subject to approval from the Office for Fair Access.

With these in mind, a student on the maximum support package would get a bursary of £2000, taking their total income in their first year to £9,177 and a student in the middle would receive between £7,708-6,770. If a student were to receive the full support package, work a part-time job and receive a bursary but didn’t get top grades, they would receive around £12,396.20. However there are a lot of requirements a student has to qualify for in order to receive the full package and of course, not everyone will be entitled to one of these bursaries.

Linked closely to this problem of the cost of living for students is The NUS ‘Pound in Your Pocket Survey’. It surveys students across both further and higher education to find out about their experiences of and attitudes to the financial support system. The aims of the report are to examine key issues around experience and attitude. The NUS wanted “to find out how people value and perceive the student support system, its usefulness, its accessibility, and its capacity.”

The NUS’ report highlights the recent research by the Money Advice Service which suggests that being able to manage money and being in better control of one’s money makes a greater contribution to psychological well-being than an increase in income. In the survey, respondents were asked the extent to which they felt in control of their financial situation, by responding to the following statement: ‘I feel I have little control of my financial situation’.

The respondents most likely to report feeling a lack of control in terms of their financial situation were disabled students, more than half of which agreed or strongly agreed with the statement (53%), NHS students (52%) and full-time, young and adult further education students (both 51%). This last group reported the strongest feeling with just over one in five (23%) strongly agreeing that they feel that they have little control of their financial situation.

Similarly in response to the statement ‘I regularly worry about not having enough money to meet my basic living expenses such as rent and utility bills’, over half of adult FE students, student parents, NHS students, mature HE students and disabled students agreed or strongly agreed that they regularly worry about not having enough money to cover their basic living expenses. The group that expressed the least concern were full-time FE students, 37 per cent of whom stated that they agreed or strongly agreed that they regularly worry about covering basic living costs. However, every subgroup had more respondents reporting regular worry than not.

Closely related to this issue is how money anxieties are affecting students’ study. Respondents who considered themselves to be the most distracted by financial worry in relation to their studies were undergraduates in the 21-24 category, more than half of them indicated that they did not feel able to concentrate because of financial concerns (53 % disagreed or strongly disagreed). This figure includes approximately one in five who selected the strongest negative response in this category (21%). Also strongly affected were student parents and NHS respondents, where almost half reported that they felt unable to concentrate on their studies because of financial worries (both 49% cent disagreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement)

From just a snapshot of the full survey the results show that being able to afford the costs of living is something that worries a wide spectrum of students. In turn, these worries could be affecting the main reason for going to university: to study. It also has the potential to affect other parts of the overall university experience too, such as the participation in social activities, clubs and even employment and career opportunities.

If you wish to read into further detail about some of the areas of the survey, you can find it here:

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