The most expensive item in any student's budget is accommodation and some simple comparisons - from the 1998 Virgin Alternative Guide - make the point clearly.
At King's College, London, prestigious and very central on the Strand, a place in hall will cost between pounds 38 and pounds 110 a week, depending on what meals are provided. Private rents in flats and houses accessible for King's, and that certainly does not mean in classy locations, range from pounds 60 to pounds 80 a week.
Even out on the outer fringes of London, where many of the former polytechnics are located, university housing will set you back up to pounds 60 a week and a room in private accommodation much the same.
Hall costs do not vary enormously around the country but private rents undoubtedly do. And with most students spending one or two years in the private rented sector, that can make a significant difference to over all costs. At the University of Manchester, a place in hall costs between pounds 35 a week and pounds 66, according to what is provided, and private rents are between pounds 35 and pounds 60, a considerable improvement on London.
Smaller towns can offer private accommodation at even lower rents: in Hull, Sunderland, Middlesbrough or Preston you would not expect to pay more than pounds 35, in Newcastle or Durham pounds 50 would be top whack for a privately rented room. In Bradford, reputed to be the cheapest student city in the country, a room can be had for between pounds 25 and pounds 35 a week.
With the new loans and fees regime these are differences which can be crucial to students who embark on courses with the prospect of heavy debts at the end. And the lower cost of living does not end there. In some of the larger cities like Manchester costs are slightly above the national average but in others, like Hull, Preston (University of Central Lancashire), Bradford and the northeast they are several percentage points below.
The price of a pint is a good guide and in a union bar in the north it is seldom more than pounds 1.40 and sometimes as low as pounds 1.10. The pounds 1 pint is still a not-too-distant memory in the northeast, but union bars are almost always good value and the breweries run many promotions to entice their members in.
Where the cost of living is generally low, eating out is also inexpensive. Bradford, the curry capital of England, can offer a decent meal for as little as pounds 3.50 for a main course and chappatis. Manchester, too, boasts its curry "half-mile" in Rusholme where intense competition between restaurants offers thousands of meals for under a fiver. Both Manchester and Liverpool have long-established Chinese districts were the food ranges from the cheap to the expensive but is almost always good.
You don't have to rely on local delicacies like fish and chips and stotties (don't ask!) anywhere. Even the smaller northern towns have come in to the late twentieth century and can usually offer Indian, Chinese and Italian standard fare, and cheap pizzas and hamburgers.
Only vegetarians might feel a little neglected in some of the further reaches of the region.
Public transport is often cheaper than in the south and gives relatively easy access to the mainly free recreational delights of the northern countryside, which ranges from the gentle Yorkshire Wolds to the wilder reaches of the Pennines and Lake District, while from Hull a cheap weekend can be had by indulging in a "Dutch dash" on the North Sea ferry route, with all the joys of duty free on the way there and back and Amsterdam's delights in between.