Going to university should prove to be the springboard to higher earning potential. It should also represent a time of transition to real adulthood. For the majority of students, it is their first time living away from home. However, contemplating how much university will cost can be enough to put off both potential students and their parents.
The potential costs of going to a UK university can feel overwhelming. In fact, we now have some of the highest tuition fees globally. That’s frightening for young people just starting out on their lives and careers.
However, rather than burying your head in the sand, getting a clear picture of what university in the UK costs enables you to plan and budget effectively.
Tuition fees depend on both where you study and which part of the UK you are from.
Both UK and EU students who study at the undergraduate level at universities in England can be required to pay tuition fees up to £9,250 per annum.
Universities in Wales can charge up to £9,000 for UK students (but specific non-repayable non-means-tested grants are available for Welsh students) and £3,925 for students from within the EU or Northern Ireland.
Northern Irish students studying in Northern Ireland will only be charged up to £4,030 compared to students studying there from other areas of the UK (who will be charged up to £9,250).
In Scotland, Scottish students are not charged for undergraduate university study. Students from elsewhere in the UK may be charged up to £9,250 per annum to study in Scotland.
For international undergraduates studying in the UK, the fees are wildly different according to where you study and what you study. They range from around £10,000 to £38,000. They are more expensive for medical and laboratory-based courses, especially at the top universities.
Almost a quarter of university students live at home and commute to university. This percentage increases enormously for poorer students. Accommodation costs should also be factored into budgeting for a university.
The average rent a student is paying in the UK is £125 per week. This does vary substantially depending on where the university is. For example, in London students are paying an average of £182 per week, whilst in Northern Ireland the average is £91 per week. Students living at home pay their parents an average of £46 per week in rent.
Many of these average rent figures include bills to some degree. However, for some students, they will need to pay bills on top of these amounts. These could equate to around £50 per month for utilities. Additional bills are likely to include phone bills and the internet. Students may also have travel costs from their accommodation to their university.
Furthermore, despite the cliché that students live off baked beans and Pot Noodles, they do actually need to eat food that costs money. Fully-catered halls are rare these days. Students are more likely to be responsible for preparing their own food, and the average spend on food per week per person in the UK is £37.
Also, don’t forget that socialising and nights out are often par for the course at university and these costs can easily mount up too.
How to finance university in the UK
The good news is that you don’t have to find all of this cash from the Saturday job you’ve been juggling with your A levels. There are government-directed loans which can be used to cover both tuition and maintenance costs.
However, this can be concerning for students too. The average graduate debt in the UK is more than £50,000. But don’t panic yet.
Student loans are split into two types: tuition fee and maintenance. Full-time UK students can receive up to £9,250 per annum in their tuition fee loan. This isn’t means tested. The maximum amount available corresponds with the maximum amount universities may charge in tuition fees.
Maintenance loans are designed to help towards living costs. These loans are means tested using household income. The amount available also depends on whether you are studying in London.
However, you shouldn’t start panicking about getting into £50k worth of debt. From 6th April 2018, you will only be required to start paying the loan back once you’re earning over £25,000. Then you pay 9% of everything earned beyond this. After 30 years, anything you haven’t yet paid back is wiped off.
The Student Finance Calculator is a good port-of-call if you’re looking to see how much loan you will be eligible for.
You should also sit down as a family and work out a realistic budget for university costs. Together with parental top-ups, work from part-time employment and term-time work (if possible), then student finance needn’t be so scary.
The reality of what it costs to go to University in the UK
There’s no getting away from the fact that the figures make frightening reading. It does, in essence, cost a great deal to get a degree. However, when you look a little more closely at how the UK system works it isn’t as bad as many home students fear. After all, the degree itself should see you able to earn more than average and therefore be in the position to pay it back commensurate with your future wage. If it doesn’t, then it’s still ok as you won’t be required to pay it back at all.
Nonetheless, it is prudent for parents and students to prepare financially for their university time. Where possible, take steps to reduce your living expenses and live as economically as possible. As a student, you’ll be eligible for a National Union of Students card which opens the door to a whole range of discounts.