Student looks at his piggy bank while holding a hammer

New report shows students studying outside London need £18,600 to have an acceptable standard of living

A major new report shows, for the first time, how much students need to have a minimum acceptable standard of living.

The Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) at 山ּ has developed its Minimum Income Standard (MIS) research for over 15 years for many different kinds of households, and has partnered with the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) () and TechnologyOne () to develop a Minimum Income Standard for Students.

The researchers consulted with groups of university students across the UK, who discussed in detail what students need for a minimum acceptable standard of living - for accommodation, in the home, for studies, socially and life more broadly.

The agreed range of goods and services were costed to calculate a budget that should enable students to participate and feel included in university life.

The findings were developed for 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students in private rented accommodation as a starting point.

This provides a baseline, but the income needed will vary in some cases, particularly with costs such as rent and utilities which students may have relatively little control over, and for students in different areas or types of accommodation.

The report outlines a significant shortfall between the MIS budget and student maintenance loans, and shows the level of income from other resources, such as paid work or parental support, required to fill the gap.

Key findings:

  • Students need £366 a week (including average shared rent) to have a minimum acceptable standard of living. Excluding rent, students need £244 a week.
  • Rent accounts for the largest single area of cost, at a third of the overall budget. When rent is combined with utility bills, food within the home and clothes this makes up over half of student costs (59%).
  • Adjusting in line with rent prices in different parts of the UK, it is estimated that students need £18,632 a year outside London and £21,774 a year in London to reach MIS.
  • For a student studying outside London, the maximum government maintenance support, provided to support students to meet their living costs, falls short of MIS by £8,405 for English students (covering 55% of costs, £6,482 for Welsh students (covering 65% of costs), £7,232 for Scottish students (covering 61% of costs) and £10,496 for Northern Irish students where support covers 44% of MIS.
  • For students studying in London, the gap is £8,426 if a student is from England, with the loan covering 61% of students’ costs. The gap is £6,604 if they are from Wales (support covers 70% of costs), £10,374 if they are from Scotland (support covers 52%) and £10,922 if they are from Northern Ireland, where support covers just 50% of students’ living costs.
  • Even a student doing 10 hours a week of paid employment for the whole year and in receipt of the maximum maintenance support will not have enough money to reach MIS. English students would need to work nearly 19 hours a week at minimum wage, Welsh students more than 14 hours, Scottish students 16 hours and Northern Irish students 23 hours to reach MIS. By contrast, many universities recommend students should work no more than 15 hours during term-time
  • The parents of an English student who receives the minimum maintenance support and does no paid employment would have to contribute £13,865 a year for the student to reach MIS. For a Welsh student, the contribution is £6,482; for a Scottish student, it is £10,232; and for a Northern Irish student, it is £13,548.
  • Additionally, under the current system, parents in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are expected to contribute to their children’s living costs even if their own income does not meet for a minimum acceptable standard of living.

The report recommendations are that:

  • The maximum level of government support should be increased in all four UK nations to help students reach MIS.
  • However, government maintenance support should not cover all students’ expected costs. Instead, they might reasonably be expected to do some part-time work (though not so much it interferes with their studies). The suggestion in the report is around 10 hours per week, all year, which is roughly equivalent to working full-time over the summer holiday. Adjustments should be made for students who cannot work, due to high workloads, they have a disability that prevents them from working or other reasons.
  • Parents should not be expected to contribute to their children’s living costs unless they have a minimum acceptable standard of living. This means the household income threshold at which parents are expected to start paying should be increased. Currently this stands at £25,000 in England, £21,000 in Scotland and £19,203 in Northern Ireland (parents are never expected to contribute in Wales).

Katherine Hill, Research Fellow at CRSP and a co-author of the report, said: “This research sets out what students themselves feel is required to participate in university life.

“Things like a laptop and mobile phone were seen as vital for studying and accessing uni accounts, and the students we spoke to emphasised the importance of being able to socialise, join university clubs or societies and go on course trips – as these are crucial to feeling included in the university experience.

“The cost of a shared TV as a cheap form of entertainment, or a few cushions and plants, were also seen as important to make their private rented accommodation feel more like a home.

“However, over half of the minimum student budget covers rent and food at home – costs which are unavoidable. Students, like others, have faced increased costs of living, and those we spoke to recognised the pressures of juggling their finances alongside studying, worrying about money and having to work (more).

“Our research describes a level that enables a student to meet their needs and feel included in university life, and provides a useful starting point in thinking about how their needs can best be met at this important stage of life.”

Josh Freeman, Policy Manager at HEPI and a co-author of the report, said: “Though we have known for some time that student maintenance is inadequate across the UK, the size of the gap is striking. It is time for a rethink of student maintenance support.

“The report is very clear that we do not expect the government to cover all students’ costs. In most cases, it might be reasonable for students to do some paid work.

“But the current situation, where many students have to work 20 hours or more to meet their costs, is unsustainable. Similarly, while it may be reasonable for some parents to contribute, the current expectation is highly demanding.”

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “Our current students are the next generation of teachers, doctors, nurses and scientists, and it is clear many are struggling to keep up with the cost of living.

“Students have different sources of funding to support their time at university, from parental support, earnings from term-time and summer jobs, and maintenance loans for those who qualify.

“While universities do all they can to support students, the maintenance package is falling short and has not kept pace with inflation.

“In England, students receiving the maximum maintenance package are £1,903 worse off than they would have been if correct inflation measures were used over the last four years.

“It is imperative we look again at how well the current system is supporting students and what changes need to be made to continue widening participation in higher education for all learners regardless of their background.

“In England, this includes a need for the uprating of the student maintenance package, a reintroduction of maintenance grants for those most in need and a re-evaluation of household income thresholds – frozen since 2008.”

Chloe Field, VP Higher Education at the National Union of Students, said: “This report is groundbreaking – and yet echoes what we in the student movement have said for almost the last ten years since the government took away student maintenance grants in 2015.

“After a decade of the poorest students graduating with the highest debt, it is clear that the current funding model for education is broken and needs urgent repair.

“Student poverty has curtailed the aspirations of young people in this country. The image of students partying all the time, skipping lectures for hangovers isn’t true: we simply dream of a world where we can commit proper time and energy into our studies and can afford to spend time with our friends.

“The upcoming General Election is an opportunity to change all this. We expect to see not only Manifesto commitments to uprating maintenance funding and the reinstating of maintenance grants but also action on this in the first 100 days of a new government.”

The report: A Minimum Income Standard for Students, by Katherine Hill, Matt Padley and Josh Freeman is available here: /media/media/research/crsp/downloads/A%20Minimum%20Income%20Standard%20for%20Students%209May24.pdf

ENDS

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 24/55

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