Going Higher: On a shoestring - but the living is still easy

Those on a tight budget - and that's the majority of students these days - will revel in the discovery that accommodation, nightlife and even food is much cheaper than in the south-east. The quality of life, however, is just as high, writes Diana Appleyard
ONE OF the major benefits of choosing a university in the Midlands is that accommodation and the cost of living is very cheap compared to London.

There may not be the same vast array of cultural activities available as in the capital, but in the main cities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Leicester a venue for every taste, from the highbrow to the rave scene, is on offer.

In Birmingham you can expect to pay between pounds 30 and pounds 35 for a room in a flat.

At the University of Birmingham, hall accommodation is available in the first year - in mixed halls, an all-male college called Lake and an all- female college, Wyddrington.

Aston University also offers good hall accommodation in the first year and has a campus in Handsworth Wood called The Village.

The University of Central England recently embarked on a massive extension to its hall accommodation in Perry Barr. The main student areas to live in the city are Selly Oak, Stirchley, Balsall Heath and Harbourne.

Of the four, Harbourne is by far the most up-market, with lots of large white houses and excellent flats. Expect to pay the most there - up to pounds 50 per week for a room.

Balsall Heath has long held a reputation as being the red-light area of the city, but the council, police and residents have made a concerted effort to drive away the prostitutes and drug pushers, and it is now becoming a very pleasant area to live, with lots of families and small, busy shops.

Selly Oak is also pretty and the nearest to the University of Birmingham - again, accommodation is slightly more expensive here in the wide tree- lined streets near to Edgbaston cricket ground and the BBC studios at Pebble Mill.

For easy meals, you cannot beat the good old curry house, where you can enjoy a vast meal for as little as pounds 5. Some are not licensed so you have to take your own booze.

The city now has a thriving evening scene with numerous clubs, bars and pubs, and the city centre has pretty well every major chain store you can think of. For interesting second-hand clothes shops, try Moseley.

In nearby Wolverhampton, the cost of a room is between pounds 30 and pounds 35 per week. The pubs are very cheap, and beer in the union would set you back just pounds 1.20 a pint. The cost of living here is estimated to be three per cent below average.

Coventry may no longer offer many architectural gems, but one big benefit is that, again, the cost of living is very cheap. Expect to pay around pounds 35 per week for a room once you have left halls, and the University of Coventry has one big draw - a four-level bar/club/gig venue called Planet.

At the University of Warwick students either choose to live in nearby Earlsdon, or they plump for the leafier surrounds of Leamington Spa - about 20 minutes away on the bus. Flats cost a bit more here.

Travelling south, a large proportion of students choose to live on campus at Worcester, where the student union, the Hangar Bar, is a big draw. Flats in the city would cost you around pounds 40-pounds 45 per week (some very nice houses indeed) and there are many cheap places to eat out in theme bars.

In Stafford, rooms in a flat would cost you around pounds 35 per week. Hall accommodation at the university in Stoke is plentiful - with six on-campus halls, 30 six-bedroom houses on Leek Road and in Stafford there are now more than 600 ensuite rooms in Stafford Court.

In Keele, accommodation is mostly on campus - the cost of living here is around pounds 40 per week - and in Derby city rents are also around pounds 35 per week. In Nottingham city, rents are about pounds 40 per week, and most students live in the Lenton, Beeston and Radford areas.

Lenton is reckoned to be the best area, nearest to lively shops, pubs and restaurants. Cost of living here is quite high - one per cent above average, and you can bank on spending around pounds 55 per week after you have paid for your flat.

In Leicester, accommodation is plentiful and very cheap.

Flats at about pounds 34 per week per room, cost of living pounds 40 per week and there are also masses of cheap restaurants, many ethnic.