Student living index: Want to save money? Head north or west

The cost of getting a degree can vary enormously depending on where you study. Lucy Hodges reports
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The Independent Online

If you are wondering which university is the cheapest in the United Kingdom, you now have your answer. It is Bradford University in Yorkshire, where students pay an average of only £40.51 a week for rent, according to a cost-of-living index survey published exclusively in The Independent today.

The most expensive is the Royal Academy of Music in London, on Marylebone Road, a stone's throw from Madame Tussaud's, where accommodation costs a staggering £147.07 weekly. The second most costly is Imperial College London, Britain's powerhouse of science and technology, located in pricey South Kensington, close to Harrod's.

The new cost-of-living index is expected to help students who might be wondering which universities to list on their UCAS form to make up their minds where to study – or at least enable them to factor in the relative cost of studying, say, in Manchester compared with London, or in Cardiff compared with Oxford.

It pays to study in the North of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the research finds. In second place for cheapness comes Bolton University and in third and fourth places two Welsh institutions, Glamorgan University and the University of Wales, Bangor. Fifth is the University of Sunderland.

The most expensive part of the country for students is London and the South East, according to the survey of accommodation, drink and a basket of goods compiled by, the guide to university entry.

The second most costly is Imperial College London. Third comes Oxford, where rent and associated costs are as much as £120.01 a week. Other institutions where the cost of living is high include the University of Buckingham, University College London, the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, the London School of Economics and the University of the Arts London. Attending a London college would be expected to be expensive because the cost of living in the capital is notoriously high.

It is no surprise either that it costs a lot of money to study at the University of Buckingham. It is a private institution that attracts well-heeled overseas students who are given quality accommodation. There are also good reasons why the Royal Agricultural College is expensive – the price of campus accommodation includes meals.

"Applicants are perfectly aware that going to university is an expensive business," says Johnny Rich, of "What they don't necessarily appreciate is how much the costs can differ depending on which university they choose. In the same way that they should think about differences in atmosphere, location and standards of everything from teaching to the social life, they should also consider which university matches their pocket."

London's colleges and universities are well aware that the high cost of living in the capital does not work in their favour. The Royal Academy of Music says that it gives substantial scholarships and bursaries to students to help them make ends meet.

"The Academy is constantly seeking new funding sources for student scholarships," said a spokesman. "We aim to ensure that nobody is forced to turn down a place to study here because of financial hardship."

Imperial College offers bursaries of £4,000 to undergraduates who are eligible for a higher education maintenance grant. "The college is aware that it is operating in an expensive area of London, and attempts to mitigate that," said a spokesman. "A place in student accommodation is guaranteed for first-years, and the college offers a variety of rooms to cater for different budgets, ranging from a single en suite for £156 a week to a place in a triple room for £54."

The third most expensive university, Oxford, maintains that its students are no worse off financially than anywhere else, and are possibly better off, when you study the figures in context.

Oxford has eight-week terms , so although accommodation costs may sound high, students in college are only paying rent for half a year, which brings down the annual costs. "Those rent prices also often include food," said a spokesperson. "And all include access to free college facilities, such as sports, gym equipment, libraries, social areas and cheap college bars."

The Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester made a similar point – that it provided good value because its rent includes three meals a day and regular changes of bed linen.

At the other end of England, Bradford was cock-a-hoop about being rated the cheapest university at which to study. "This is great news for the university and the city at a time when students and their parents are being asked to contribute to tuition fees on top of accommodation and living expenses," said the vice-chancellor, Professor Mark Cleary.

Elizabeth Sheppard, a third-year student at Bradford, said that cost was one of the reasons why she had chosen the university. "The student union is cheap," she said. "The bars have just started doing jacket potatoes for £1.50 and a hot dog for £1.70. Plus you can get a curry locally for only £5."

Peter Crofts, director of marketing and student recruitment at Glamorgan, said: "It is fantastic that students can gain a university education without having to spend over the odds on living expenses. Our halls are well equipped and are keenly priced."

Another Welsh institution, the University of Wales, Bangor, which came fourth cheapest, said: "With good rail links and Snowdonia's resources at our doorstep, Bangor really can provide it all."

F or more information on the survey, log on to

Most expensive universities

1. Royal Academy of Music

2. Imperial College London

3. Oxford

4. Buckingham

5. University College London

6. School of Pharmacy, University of London

7. Royal Agricultural College

8. London School of Economics

9. University of the Arts, London

10. City University

Cheapest universities

1. Bradford

2. Bolton

3. Glamorgan

4. University of Wales, Bangor

5. Sunderland

6. University of Wales, Lampeter

7. Abertay Dundee

8. Northampton

9. Cumbria

10. Swansea Institute of Higher Education

Click here for full listing