Rent in both in halls of residence and privately owned houses varies widely between and within different university towns, say the authors.
This year's Student Book, based on information from 280 universities and colleges, paints a bleak picture of student accommodation. Some have little or no university halls or housing.
Thames Valley University has none while Westminster has room for 11 per cent of its students. Cambridge, by comparison, can house 85 per cent.
Half-board in university halls costs between pounds 62 and pounds 79 a week at Birmingham compared with pounds 53 at Cardiff.
Self-catering in hall costs between pounds 29 and pounds 51 at Manchester compared with pounds 32 at York. Private housing may cost as little as pounds 25 a week in Bradford or as much as pounds 50 in Bristol or pounds 100 in London.
"Student accommodation costs a lot. Some student unions report students paying over 100 per cent of their grant in rent. If you are lucky enough to have a choice, go for living in college," the book advises.
The grant, now pounds 1,710 a year outside London, was frozen by the previous government which introduced loans for student maintenance.
Klaus Boehm, one of the book's authors, said that both private landlords and universities could pose problems for students. One Manchester student was sued for a year's rent after he left his rented house which had no lock on the door, was uninsurable and which was repeatedly burgled.
Another student arrived at a new university for his first year with a letter guaranteeing accommodation and was told there was none. Only after his father threatened to expose the vice-chancellor did some excellent housing materialise.
The book says: "The amount of college/university accommodation is astonishingly variable. A very few universities and colleges are aiming to accommodate all their students; quite a number aim to house at least first-year students."
Mr Boehm said: "For historical reasons, the former polytechnics tend to have the less student accommodation than the old universities."
He says that the most noticeable change in student life recently has been the increasing number who work in term-time to make ends meet. Term- time work is barred at Oxford and Cambridge but most other universities are resigned to it.
Work is available on many campuses and some universities, for example, Aberdeen and Warwick, try to help students find jobs off campus.
Douglas Trainer, president of the National Union of Students, said: "Rent prices have gone through the roof and for many students this is their biggest outgoing. Rents in the South-east and, particularly in London, are very high and, increasingly, students feel they cannot afford to study in these places. It limits people's opportunities and choice."
If all else fails, the book suggests squatting (except in Scotland, where the law is stricter) though it warns that the law needs watching and that they will need to react quickly to landlords, especially if they go to court.
The NatWest Student Book 1998; Klaus Boehm and Jenny Lees-Spalding; Trotman & Co; pounds 9.99.
Comparing the cost
Examples of average weekly rent for students
Bradford University: pounds 59.90 half board; pounds 35.15-pounds 53.50 self-catering; private, pounds 25-pounds 30
half board from pounds 66;
self-catering from pounds 32;
private, pounds 40-50.
pounds 30-50 plus meals (colleges vary);
private, pounds 30-50.
pounds 67-77 full board;
pounds 42 self-catering;
private, pounds 40-45.
pounds 46-54 self-catering; private, pounds 45-60.
pounds 59-pounds 63.70 half board;
pounds 33- pounds 57 self-catering (colleges vary);
private, pounds 40-60. Source: The NatWest Student Book 1998Reuse content