Free choice of university hides big variation in living costs

Choice of university & Living Costs

Anyone wanting to go to university in September 2018, has until January 15th to apply through the UCAS system. The deadline to study medicine, dentistry, veterinary studies or go to Oxford or Cambridge has already passed. Generally, the Christmas holidays are the time for dreaming up ways trying to describe yourself as impressive, committed and hardworking in a 47-line ‘personal statement’.

The choice of where to study comes down to personal preference, course choice, and the university’s status, easily visible in regularly-published league tables. The UK has three universities in the world’s Top 10, according to the Times Higher Education, with Oxford rated the world’s best university (though it’s number two in the Sunday Times Good University Guide in the UK, behind Cambridge).

Another big factor in choosing a university is the overall cost. Almost all British establishments charge the maximum £9,250 per year for tuition. but living costs vary greatly between towns – the average amount at London universities (which includes accommodation, travel, food, and supplies) is £287 per week.

It’s £235 in Manchester and only £167 per week in Leicester (source: HSBC). Scottish universities are still completely free (provided you are unmarried, under 25 and Scottish). Although it means the most prestigious Scottish institutions – St Andrews is ranked number 3 in the Sunday Times list – are extremely competitive to gain a place.

My daughter’s student loan plan

My plan, for my daughter, who will go to university in a year’s time, is for her to take out a student loan for tuition (see the previous blog) but to try to help support her while she is there. This requires saving, planning and the hope that she can earn a small amount while she is studying.

Maintenance loans are available for up to £8,430 in the UK (increasing to £11,002 in London) and the amount is tagged on to the tuition fee loan (the interest rate is 3% above the Retail Price Index (RPI).

Some universities also offer grants and bursaries so it’s worth checking what is obtainable. They also make a big point of stressing the availability of financial support and advice on campus.


With twenty years’ experience as an international journalist and travel writer, Jon Bryant has written for The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer and The Times. He also teaches journalism at the EDJ in Nice, France. He is the co-author of the Financial literacy book for children ‘It Doesn’t Grow On Trees’.