The hidden costs of student living show that maintenance loans aren’t enough

 

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The Independent Online

Whatever your view of student life in the UK, the most popular image appears in Natwest’s Uniproof adverts, which jokingly refer to a student’s hectic schedule while showing them wrapped in a duvet with their phone and a mug of hot something, presumably after a rough night out. This stereotype of messy socialising students, increasingly surrounded by technology and creature comforts, is very familiar - but needs updating.

Besides Labour’s proposal to raise the maximum grant to £3,800 per year, maintenance costs don’t get the airtime of tuition fees. Most students don’t qualify for such large grants and thus live off mainly or exclusively off scant maintenance loans capped at £3,400p/a. The main costs -accommodation, food and drink - are nothing new, and all adults have to bear utility bills, transport costs, rent and prescriptions/dentist charges.

However, studying in 2015 requires stretching funds further than these basic costs: new expenses have appeared over the last few years, easily overlooked by the relaxed stereotype…

Laptops, tablets and internet access

Previous generations remember paying for a TV licence at university, but understandably forget the cost of computers and internet access for modern students. For this invaluable technology, at least £300-£330 has to be set aside for an entry-level laptop and many understandably want to invest in better quality to the tune of £450-£500. A Mac or iPad raises these expenses to even more eye-watering levels, yet these more powerful devices are more than justified for engineering, IT and design students. Add on software, breakdowns, insurance and backup systems and the expenses pile up. Internet access is more affordable but still forces the average student to find £90 each year more than previous generations. 

Mobile phones

In the same vein, mobiles are a student expense unique to the last decade or so; for smartphones, more recently still. Average contracts of £20 p/m don’t sound like much, but as this article aims to demonstrate, this extra £120 per year often goes forgotten calculating a student’s expenses. Don’t forget to add the cost of chargers, headphones, charges for exceeding data limits, repairs, any contents insurance, and so on.

Textbooks

Textbook costs are not a new expense but they remain largely overlooked. Notorious courses like Law charge up to £450 (according to The Law Society) for mandatory textbooks. Though websites like Open Textbook Library give some texts away for free, coverage is sporadic, and subsidised textbooks in the UK are unacceptably rare.

Printer credit

Those unfortunate enough to study scientific degrees find printing is an expensive pain. While lucky humanities students only have to print off a few essays in black and white, large projects with colour diagrams are expensive: a Marine Geography student I lived with spent £94.80 in second year alone on printing credit! That universities don’t already give each student the minimum necessary print credit from £9,000 of fees is ridiculous.

Minimum hidden costs per year

  • £400 for basic laptop and necessary extras (£135 a year)
  • £90 for internet (in average four-student house)
  • £140 for phone and necessary extras
  • £400 for textbooks (across three years = £135)
  • £100 for printing

= Total £598 per year – nearly £1,800 per three-year degree of hidden costs

Affecting Law and STEM students most, £600 per year makes all the difference when students spend £4,384 per year on average for rent alone (£6,143 in London) according to the NUS. If students are supposed to live without parental handouts, a maximum £3,400 loan is not enough; maintenance needs to be reworked for future students.

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