But where does the money go? And, more importantly, how can these nouveaux pauvres tighten their belts, without resorting to part-time labour behind the counters of McDonald's or the like?
The one big hole in a student's income is accommodation. Living in hall may be cheaper but few universities can afford to house students beyond the first year. And even in sheltered accommodation, costs can be high - a week with two meals a day costs an average of pounds 74 in Oxford colleges. Of course, there are advantages to staying in hall or other college accommodation. Typically these include as much hot water as you like and a rent that includes electricity and gas.
Phone costs will depend on whether you have a boyfriend in Brazil or can only survive with the help of long, weepy conversations back home. But at least you do not have to argue the split with anyone.
However, while the delights of living in a boxful of students may be quick to wear off, going private has its costs. Rents in the South-east and London are high (pounds 50 a week average, compared with pounds 42 elsewhere), and you may have to pay for part of the summer as well as Christmas and Easter holidays. Bearing in mind that most students are officially on holiday for at least 14 weeks each year (although doubtless studying hard), this is a hefty surcharge. But if the nearest cardboard city does not appeal, then accommodation costs are really out of your control.
Food is another necessity. One student I know survives on pounds 10 each week, living a healthy vegetable-and-soya diet (with the odd vegan vanilla cream thrown in). Another regularly spends pounds 10 on five breakfasts at the salubrious Queen's Lane Cafe in Oxford.
Student cookbooks have probably filled many a Christmas stocking. But with an extra large doner kebab and large dollop of appealing chilli sauce costing pounds 2.90, the weekly snacks of many a hungry worker can easily come to pounds 15.
What you spend depends quite simply on how much you eat out. An average week of hall food costs between pounds 20 and pounds 25, less if you do it yourself, more if you are into Marks & Spencer ready-made.
Drink may seem an essential part of student life. Just as the business lunch and several glasses will wash down a deal, acquaintances can only be consolidated over a drink. Or two. Or seven. University beer costs, on average, pounds 1.30 a pint. Shots are pounds 1.20, mixers 30p. Students have been known to spend pounds 60 in a weekend of simple pub crawls, even if the NUS estimates that most have just pounds 23 left a week for leisure (after paying for food and accommodation). Individual capacity is the deciding factor. As with food, this varies vastly. Gents are still required to prove their prowess in the traditional way (six pints, two kebabs, several lavatory stops, another six), "gels" have the increasingly trendy option of sipping several bottles of alcoholic cranberry juice for a rather less beer-gutted fiver.
There are, of course, ways to cut back. Keep the three essentials of food, accommodation and booze in trim, stick to college entertainments and student nights, and the deficit can look a lot more manageable. Don't forget the parents either: write out meticulous budget plans for them and then try lines such as "chicken costs more after the beef crisis", "you get so hungry when you work this hard", or "library fines have gone up".
It is also perfectly possible to have fun without spending a lot of money. This has traditionally been easier if you are female. Perhaps the obvious is the free evening of drink. The hours that you spend on your dress will be saved in the bar. Practise the sashay, perfect the smile, spend several minutes chatting to the foolish purveyor of your drink, and then sidle back to your friends. The cost of meals can be similarly absorbed, although you may have to spend rather too long in dreary company. Remember, post- graduates and graduates may be more willing to flex their cards, but have a tendency to be mightily dull.
The wily can even find ways to make money. Try selling on your hard-learnt knowledge - the contents of that tome no one else can face or the fruits of the early-morning (11am) lecture - to lazier friends. If you have a tendency to spend every night out, you could even consider subletting your room. Ingenuity is the key.
Remember, too, that if all else fails, you never know what millionaire you might charm from behind the tills of McDonald's.
o Barclays Bank has produced its 'Student Guide' giving financial and other tips for students starting at university, available free from bank branches close to universities and colleges.