Responding to the latest Push survey of students’ cost of living, Wes Streeting, NUS Vice President (Education), said on Thursday: ‘This survey shows how students from poorer backgrounds may already be “priced out” of attending certain universities.
‘It is no coincidence that the universities with the highest living costs tend to also be those with high proportions of students educated privately.
‘If the government were to allow these universities to set even higher top up fees, potential students from lower socio-economic backgrounds could find their choices severely restricted by a rising tide of economic elitism.’
A map, published on Thursday at Push.co.uk website, which shows how the cost of living varies at every university in the UK, reveals that some are more than twice as expensive as others.
This is the first time such a study has been carried out and it is the result of over a year’s research carried out exclusively by Push.co.uk, ‘the leading independent website for university applicants’.
Push’s index of living costs uses three indicators – student housing, groceries and drinks – to measure how each university’s living costs compare to the national average, represented as 100 on the index.
The range varied from the University of Bradford, which was cheapest at just 73 per cent of the national average, to the Royal Academy of Music with an index of 168.
To gather the data on groceries, Push worked with convenience store chain Costcutter to develop a student ‘basket of goods’, representing some of the best-selling items in branches local to universities.
Among other things, the basket included King Size Rizla, condoms, a Pot Noodle, cigarettes, beer, ProPlus, HobNobs and cheese.
The study revealed a number of surprises.
Oxford University was among the most expensive, with a higher index than most London institutions, and Wales and Northern Ireland were the cheapest regions with costs running at more than 15 per cent below average.
Earlier this year, Push.co.uk published the results of its yearly student debt survey (the UK’s most detailed annual examination of student finance).
Interestingly, the correlation between universities with higher costs and those with higher student debts is not as strong as might be expected.
Indeed, some of the universities with higher than average debts are among the country’s cheapest.
This may be explained by the composition of the student body.
There is a stronger link between high living costs and ‘posh’ universities: those that have a greater than average proportion of privately educated students.
For instance, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Agricultural College, Imperial, Oxford, UCL, St Andrew’s, Durham and Cambridge were all among those that were significantly more expensive than others in their region.
Privately educated students make up more than a third of the student body at each of these institutions.
This gives cause for concern that even if poorer students are not being dissuaded from higher education as a whole, certain institutions may become economically elitist.
Johnny Rich, Series Editor of Push.co.uk, commented: ‘Students pick a lot more than a course when they choose a university.
‘They choose a home, a lifestyle – they even choose how much they’re going to pay for it.
‘No two unis cost the same and students need the facts to make informed choices.
‘That’s why Push.co.uk has done this research. And it shows even more diversity between universities than we would have imagined.’
Push was founded in 1992 as an independent organisation that visits every university in the UK every year gathering the country’s largest resource of information for prospective students.
The site features comprehensive information about each university, application and survival advice, financial guidance, forums and a uniquely powerful search function to help applicants identify the right university for them.
Each year Push also visits hundred of schools, colleges and sixth forms giving advice direct to students and is a respected supplier of information about higher education to media outlets and businesses.
The Push Student Living Costs Survey Methodology:
Three indicators were used:
• the average cost of accommodation, based on a weighted mean of the university’s various housing options and the average rental costs in the private sector locally (researched by questionnaires and visits);
• the Push ‘booze index’, which is the weighted mean of a ‘tray’ of drinks (beer, wine and orange juice) bought in the student bar and a local pub (researched by visits);
• the student basket of goods as purchased from the branch of Costcutter nearest to the university’s main address.
This included: 20 Malboro Kingsize; 500ml Stella Artois; standard single can of Red Bull; 2 chicken breast fillets; 500ml Volvic mineral water; 500ml Tropicana orange juice; 2L Coca Cola; King Size Rizla; 16 paracetamol; 3-pack of standard Durex condoms; 94g chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle; 200g Nescafe; 500g Buitoni dried spaghetti; 4 x 400g Napoli tinned tomatoes; 1kg Heritage white baking potatoes; 400g Cathedral City white cheddar; 800g Hovis white sliced loaf; 1 packet of HobNobs; 1 pint semi-skimmed milk; 16 ProPlus; 1kg pre-bagged fresh carrots; standard size bar Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.
A weighted total of these indicators was generated for each university and the national weighted mean was calculated.
The national average was set as the 100 point on the index and individual universities’ indices represent a percentage of that average. Regional figures were calculated on the basis of the mean of universities in the region weighted by number of students.