living costs
Image: Senior Airman. Heather L Rodgers / U.S. Air Force

University students prioritise living costs over tuition fees, study shows

Over half of university students in the UK reported the cost of living away from home to be their top concern, a study has revealed.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think-tank surveyed over 1,000 full-time undergraduates and found that 59% prioritised living costs over tuition fees.

46% of respondents’ parents did not contribute to these costs. Of those whose parents funded their living, half receive over £1,000 a year, 29% between £500 and £1,000, and 21% less than £500.

Nonetheless, 49% would still choose to live away from home despite incurring a greater cost, as 57% stated that this was an important factor when applying to universities.

These findings reflect students’ favour towards the reintroduction of maintenance grants proposed by the Augar review.

For 2019/20, the minimum maintenance loan to those studying outside of London is £4,168, with the maximum – granted after means-testing – at £8,944, which would suffice for one year of living away from home according to Student Finance England.

16% of students surveyed by HEPI supported this system. Meanwhile, double preferred grants only and 53% supported a mixed system of maintenance grants and loans.

41% preferred…paying £7,500, to be paid back over 40 years…40% favoured the current amount of £9,250, returned over 30 years

HEPI also found that 79% considered the level of interest charged as “one of the most important aspects of the funding system”.

As for students’ attitude towards Augar’s recommendation of cutting tuition fees, 41% preferred his proposal of paying £7,500, to be paid back over 40 years.

40% favoured the current amount of £9,250, returned over 30 years.

HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy Rachel Hewitt commented: “Our polling shows students are also split in their views on whether Augar should be implemented.

“Instead students’ main priority is the money available for living costs and ensuring the system operates fairly by reintroducing maintenance grants for the poorest students.

“With an election potentially around the corner, politicians should take heed of students’ priorities.

“A winning offer to students may not involve focusing on tuition fees but instead on less headline-grabbing aspects, such as the maintenance system and interest rates.”

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