How to cut the cost of going to university

Bargains await students in the North-east and Wales
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The Independent Online

Middlesborough, so often in the shade of its neighbour to the north, Newcastle, could be about to have its day in the sun, thanks to the latest figures from university guide

Choosing to study in the city could significantly reduce the cost of going to university, according to the Push Cost of Living Index 2008. The survey places Teesside University top of the pile and crowns it as the cheapest place to be a student. A week’s rent in and around the Middlesborough based university costs just £41.57. Students at second-placed Bangor University get the cheapest groceries, and the cheapest drinks in its union and local pubs.

The message was definitely head to the North-east or Wales for cheap student living, with Sunderland third, Glamorgan and Swansea Institute of Higher Education fourth and fifth, and Lampeter and Leeds Metropolitan eighth and ninth.

Unsurprisingly, the 10 “most expensive” universities are all in London, where the average weekly rent of £94 is more than £20 above the national average, and nearly £40 more expensive than the cheapest region, Wales. Birkbeck College, based in the pricey Bloomsbury area of London, proved to be the most expensive university. Two prestigious performing arts schools, the Central School of Speech and Drama (based in Swiss Cottage) and the Royal Academy of Music (Marylebone), were second and third most expensive. Imperial College London, in affluent South Kensington, was fourth.

Now in its second year, the annual survey is intended to provide a relative measure of costs. “I would never say to someone that they should take this index and decide upon their uni, because you get different things at each institution,” says Johnny Rich, editor of “But we produce the figures because price is absolutely critical to your decision – along with other factors such as the standard of education, the style of teaching, the quality of accommodation, and the ‘atmosphere’: all of which should go into the mix.”

Four of the top 10 are Welsh, but only one Scottish university – Abertay Dundee – made the top 10. But Rich warns students to bear in mind that they will have an extra year’s costs to pay if they choose to head north of the border, where four-year degrees are the norm. The survey also revealed that the South-east outside London, often thought to be pricey, was only just above average for the UK, and only marginally more expensive than the South-west.

Another discernible trend outside London was the costliness of the older universities. In cities with more than one university – York, Glasgow and Edinburgh aside – it was always the older, more prestigious university that proved the more expensive. Oxford University was nearly 20 points more expensive than Oxford Brookes. Birmingham was more than 17 points more expensive than Birmingham City.

And Leeds was more than 15 points dearer than Leeds Met. “It’s hard to explain it in any other way than that the older universities charge more for accommodation and have more expensive bars,” says Rich. Birmingham also sees a difference because it is such a large and diverse city. Red brick Birmingham University also has far more of its own accommodation on offer than Birmingham City, and much of it is catered – which inevitably costs more – and is in a more upmarket end of Birmingham, pushing up drink and grocery prices. The Push table was based on the price of a basket of goods, the average weekly rent in and around the area, and the mean cost of a drink in the student bar and local pubs. The basket of goods was taken at the Costcutter nearest the university and included such student staples as a chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle, a can of Heinz beans and Rizla cigarette papers.

The accommodation survey was weighted according to how many students choose a particular housing option – more students living on site pulls the average price towards that of university accommodation. Central Drama School and Birkbeck do poorly because they have very few students living in university accommodation, so prices are tied to local London rates. “This and similar surveys are aimed at full-time undergraduate students,” said a spokesman for Birkbeck. He added that since the majority of Birkbeck’s students were mature learners already living in the London suburbs, “the information on the cost of living in the immediate vicinity of Birkbeck is largely irrelevant to our students.”

But cost of living is generally seen as a vital consideration. “Because of the prices you have to pay for tuition, going to university is a lot of money. So, particularly with the credit crunch, costs are going to increasingly be a factor,” says Deborah Matthews, 22, from Fife. Matthews has just finished a degree in computer studies at top-placed Teesside.

She says that being at a cheaper university lifted the burden of financial stress. “A lot less of your money has to go on rent and shopping so you can go out and enjoy yourself a little bit more," says Matthews, adding that her three bedroom house in central Middlesborough compared favourably with friends’ student accommodation in Edinburgh and Leeds.

But Mary Chilton, president of the Central School of Speech and Drama students’ union, says that you simply get what you pay for. “The reason why people don’t mind paying more in London is the facilities on offer. Yes, cost of living is important, but not as important as your education.”

The 10 most expensive universities

  1. Birkbeck College, University of London
  2. Central School of Speech and Drama
  3. Royal Academy of Music
  4. Imperial College of Music
  5. School of Pharmacy, University of London
  6. Heythrop College, University of London
  7. SOAS
  8. University College, London
  9. University of the Arts, London
  10. London South Bank Univ

The 10 least expensive universities

  1. University of Teesside
  2. Bangor University
  3. Sunderland University
  4. Glamorgan University
  5. Swansea Inst. of HE
  6. Bishop Grosseteste University College
  7. Liverpool Hope University
  8. University of Wales, Lampeter 9.
  9. Leeds Metropolitan University
  10. University of Abertay Dundee