Student finance: Is the price right?

Accommodation is a big part of any student's budget – and some university towns are cheaper than others. Kevin Rawlinson reports

The best value accommodation is to be found in new-university towns, according to a new survey. While the cities playing host to red-brick universities, such as Liverpool and Manchester, are still among the UK's most affordable, towns such as Middlesbrough, home to the University of Teesside, and Pontypridd, where the University of Glamorgan is based, offer students the best value, the report shows.

Accomodationforstudents.com, a search engine for student accommodation, surveyed the rent rates of more than 52,000 properties in 73 cities across the UK.

Stoke-on-Trent, home to the main campus of the University of Staffordshire, comes out cheapest, while London is, unsurprisingly, the most expensive. Students in the capital pay an average weekly rent of £104.13, while those in Stoke pay just £41.90.

"Students are prepared to take on debt – it's the norm. But in the current economic climate, people are having second thoughts about spending so much in rent if they don't need to," says Simon Thompson, director and co-founder at accommodationforstudents.com. "They put more consideration into where they are going," he says.

The average weekly rent rates in Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield – all of which are home to respected red-brick universities – are between £53.96 and £59.34, below the national average of £62.61.

Less fashionable towns such as Middlesbrough, and Stockton-on-Tees – where Durham University's Queen's Campus is based – have average rents of less than £50 a week, according to the survey. Blackpool, which offers university-level education through Blackpool and the Fylde College, is not far off, at £50.14.

Outside of London, Guildford – home of the University of Surrey – was the most expensive place for students to live. "Demand is particularly high because they have taken on more students and it is close to London," says Thompson.

A University of Surrey spokesman says: "Guildford is a fun, safe and attractive town, and is therefore a desirable place to live and study in.

"The University of Surrey guarantees first year undergraduate and postgraduate students accommodation in halls of residence, and manages 90 high-quality, private-sector properties, in which rents are controlled."

Canterbury, home to both the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University, is in the top 10 most expensive towns, at £72.90 per week. Chester, at £74.25 per week, and Ipswich – the setting for University Campus Suffolk – at £73.77, also make the top 10.

Over the past five years the average weekly student rent has risen by more than 19 per cent, from £52.44 in 2004. According to the study, the most expensive towns for students to rent properties in are in the south of England, with the exception of St Andrews – which is by far the most expensive in Scotland, at £80.48 per week, 26 per cent above the UK average.

"Despite the credit crunch the student housing market is still buoyant," says Thompson. "There will always be students and their numbers continue to increase." The number of full-time students went up 11 per cent in 2008 on the previous year, and UCAS reported in April that the number of university applicants this year is up 9 per cent on last year.

Demand in some places is pushing up rent prices. Rent now accounts for a third of the student budget, according to Thompson. "Some students are finding that it is better to stay at home to save money," he says.

Despite this, the survey reported a move away from traditional halls of residence, towards the often pricier alternative of private halls.

"Universities seem to be moving away from providing such a high proportion of the accommodation taken up by their students and are instead concentrating on their core area of interest – educating them," says William Berry, director and co-founder of the website. "[Private halls] can be more expensive and would not meet the demand for accommodation on their own, but they are nevertheless useful," he adds.

Which is not to say that students are turning their back on typical student accommodation, and the four-bedroomed house in a student enclave remains popular. "They just don't go into them until later. For example, final-year students often want the peace," says Berry.

And these student enclaves show no sign of dying out. "There are parts of cities, such as Headingley in Leeds and Hallam in Sheffield that are becoming almost over-populated by students," says Thompson.

Sarah Donoghue, 22, who has just graduated with a degree in events management from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2009 says money concerns played a big part in her decisions later on in her university career.

"When I first went away to university I was in student accommodation which was £79 per week all inclusive," she says. "I paid a little more in later years – I think that is the pattern most people follow.

"As the years go by, students start asking the right questions and in final year, they are more discerning.

"I have noticed students wanting more for their money. My friends and I looked at larger private housing schemes where everything seems to be there for you. I can understand their appeal and I can see why they are so popular. I know lots of my friends opted for that."

MOST EXPENSIVE

1 LONDON

2 GUILDFORD

3 CAMBRIDGE

4 EXETER

5 BRIGHTON

6 ST ANDREWS

7 OXFORD

8 CHESTER

9 IPSWICH

10 CANTERBURY

CHEAPEST

1 STOKE

2 MIDDLESBROUGH

3 CREWE

4 PONTYPRIDD

5 STOCKTON-ON-TEES

6 HULL

7 BLACKPOOL

8 SUNDERLAND

9 BOLTON

10 WOLVERHAMPTON

SOURCE: accommodationforstudents.com

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