The cost of student living: The middle-income children are frozen out

The cost of living as a student, the cost of study for a student, and the total debt students come out of university with are all going up. They’ve been going up for years now.

Housing prices have risen by nearly a quarter since 2009, according to NUS figures, the cost of living for the general public is continuously rising, and overall, more money is required to enjoy relatively basic luxuries. So, naturally, I received £500 less student finance than last year.

I find myself in the unfortunate middle ground of student finance. My parents, without divulging too much, earn just enough to place themselves above the upper bracket of means-testing, and so I receive the lowest maintenance loan.

The University of Edinburgh estimates on their website that the monthly costs for a student per month range from £635 to £1,280, based on rent, food, household bills and course costs. That £1,280 a month equates to around £12-13,000 a year.

“My parents have other things to spend their hard-earned money on than their 20-year old son”

£12,000 sounds extortionate, and I actually calculate my living costs at around £8,000 (rent, bills, bus pass, phone, food and social costs, course costs, travel and clothes).

Yet considering I only receive £4,440 student finance, I have to find £3,500 from somewhere just to live in relative, if slightly cold, comfort. The government expects parents to foot the bill, judging by their means-tested student finance system.

Believe it or not, my parents have other things to spend their hard-earned money on than their 20-year old son, whom they spent 18 pre-university years providing for. Giving me £3,500 is not even a feasible option, let alone a practical one.

Much more pertinently, why should parents have to pay for their children once they go to university? They’re also people too, shockingly. I do not want to ask for money because it is my life, and so I should finance it.

Which means I, along with many other students, now find myself, put mildly… fucked.

After having a job over summer, where I often worked upwards of 50 hours a week to try and find the money to save for University, I now have a part-time job in Nottingham, working 3-4 nights a week to earn the money to make my financial situation more comfortable without using a huge overdraft.

The University of Nottingham has its own means-tested Core Bursary Awards, for which a person can receive between £750 and £3,000 towards their studies for students with family incomes up to around £40,000, which is non-repayable.

To quantify this, using the Student Finance England calculator for a prospective 2017 student with a means-tested income of £15,000, they will be entitled to £8,430 Maintenance Loan, plus £3,000 Core Bursary from the University of Nottingham, giving them a grand total of over £11,000 solely on living costs.

Even a student with a family income of £40,000, the higher end of the student finance boundaries, receives £6,615 from SFE and £750 from UoN, which would nearly cover all of my prospective costs.

The students left out are from middle-income families: we are left with a higher amount of debt, yet also spend the most of our own money on living costs in real-time, the proverbial worst of both worlds.

“I would rather work than face the worry of not having enough money to get me through the year”

I have to work, as neither the University nor the government can afford to help to me, apparently. In the case of the University, however, it is expected that I achieve a minimum of a 2:1 to get a decent graduate job, or go onto a Masters course, as I desire to do.

I am also expected to take an active part in wider university society, and on top of all this, I am giving 12 hours a week on average to my job. I enjoy my job, but now have little time for leisure.

Should there really be any surprise that so many students suffer from mental health issues, or feel lost while at university? I love my degree, and I have a lot of affection for this University, but I also get very frustrated with it, and money worries are a part of that.

The UoN Students’ Union posted a video yesterday on the last time boys cried, in aid of male mental health awareness. Well, the last time I cried was this summer, in front of my mother and step-father, having checked my budget against prospective costs, and found myself at least £2,000 down.

Such was my anger and upset at the situation, taking a year out, or dropping out completely, was an option. This, from a guy whose primary goal for his career is academia. Not many academics lack a degree these days, I am led to believe.

I would rather work than face the worry of not having enough money to get me through the year. But my question is whether this should even be the case?

When I consider the £13,500 a year of student fees I will be lumped with, and the extra £3,500 a year of my own money I am using to fund the rest of university life, I am paying £17,000 a year to study at UoN, with huge financial pressure, a desire for a first-class degree and the need for suitable extra-curricular experience to stand out from the crowd.

The government, in its own circle of stupidity, pays universities £9,000 per student (for the moment) as a result of the growth in student fees, giving universities unholy levels of income, and then wonders why the deficit is so high.

UoN, in their 2015 financial report, had a £25 million surplus, after £61 million of capital investment. So, with an overall income of £593 million and investing 1/10 of that back into the University, £25 million was left.

That is not just incredible, it is incredulous. Pay every single one of the estimated 16,500 undergraduates not eligible for the Bursary scheme £1,000, and the UoN surplus is still £8.5 million, with an increase in Consolidated Reserves to £430 million.

Of course, this would never happen. The government cannot be bothered to pay us in the middle, so why should the University?

Extortionate fees, pressured to get a 2:1 minimum, actively pushed into extra-curricular activities, and not enough financial support to help us do it all and live comfortably…

Welcome to the world of middle-income higher education.

Connor Higgs

Featured image courtesy of ‘Michael Fleshman’ via Flickr.

Article video courtesy of

Data supplied by NUS, the University of Edinburgh and the 2015 University of Nottingham Financial Report.

2 Comments on this post.
  • Serena Martin
    24 November 2016 at 17:50
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    Thank you Connor. This really does show how ridiculous the whole system is. Our daughter is in much the same situation as you, we earn just a few thousand too much for her to get University help, thankfully she is incredibly sensible where money is concerned and budgets well.

    Your article also omits the government moving the goalposts for re-payment.

  • George
    24 November 2016 at 19:26
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    I am also in this position but I get even less student loan! The Uni doesn’t care and I work 20 hours on top of my degree just to stay afloat. Who needs time to think anyway?!

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