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Supporting children at university ‘could cost parents nearly £14,000-a-year’

Some parents of university students in England would have to contribute nearly £14,000-a-year to ensure their children have an acceptable standard of living while studying, a report has suggested.

University students studying outside of London need £18,632 a year to reach a minimum acceptable standard of living, a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) and TechnologyOne has estimated.

Academics at Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) have developed a minimum income standard (MIS) for students – which estimates the amount needed to “fully participate in higher education”.

Government maintenance support – provided to help students to meet their living costs – “falls short” of what is needed, even for students receiving the maximum support available, according to the report.

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It suggests the gap for students studying outside of London is £8,405 if they are from England, £6,482 if they are from Wales, £7,232 if they are from Scotland and £10,496 if they are from Northern Ireland.

In 2024/25, undergraduates in England from households with incomes of £25,000 or less will be able to access a maintenance loan of up to £10,227-a-year if they are living away from home outside London.

Students with a higher household income get a lower amount of maintenance loan to help with their living costs.

Researchers estimate that families from England – whose child does no paid employment and receives the minimum maintenance support – would have to contribute £13,865 per year for them to reach MIS.

For a Welsh student the contribution is £6,482, for a Scottish student it is £10,232, and for a Northern Irish student it is £13,548, according to the research.

A minimum standard of living is “more than just food, clothes and shelter” and it is what you need in order to have the “opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society”, according to the paper.

The report calls for the maximum level of government support to be increased in all four UK nations to help students, but it says maintenance support should not necessarily cover all students’ costs.

Students might be “expected to do some part-time work” – such as 525 hours of work a year, which is the equivalent to working full-time over the summer or 10 hours each week for the entire year, it said.

The report added: “Parents should not be expected to contribute to their children’s living costs if they cannot themselves reach a minimum acceptable standard of living.”

This research involved focus groups with domestic undergraduate students in the second or third year of university in the UK, living in private rented accommodation and sharing with friends.

Researchers constructed and costed a minimum basket of goods and services following consultation with the groups to develop an estimate for how much students need to reach a minimum standard of living.

Josh Freeman, policy manager at Hepi and a co-author of the report, said: “Though we have known for some time that student maintenance is inadequate across the UK, the size of the gap is striking.

“It is time for a rethink of student maintenance support.

“The report is very clear that we do not expect the Government to cover all students’ costs. In most cases, it might be reasonable for students to do some paid work.

“But the current situation, where many students have to work 20 hours or more to meet their costs, is unsustainable.

“Similarly, while it may be reasonable for some parents to contribute, the current expectation is highly demanding.”

Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK (UUK), said it is clear many students “are struggling to keep up with the cost of living”.

She said: “While universities do all they can to support students, the maintenance package is falling short and has not kept pace with inflation.”

Chloe Field, VP Higher Education at the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “After a decade of the poorest students graduating with the highest debt, it is clear that the current funding model for education is broken and needs urgent repair.”

She added: “The image of students partying all the time, skipping lectures for hangovers isn’t true: we simply dream of a world where we can commit proper time and energy into our studies and can afford to spend time with our friends.”

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said: “Our student finance system ensures that the highest levels of support are targeted at students from the lowest income families.

“We are increasing loans and grants for living and other costs, along with freezing tuition fees for the seventh year running to reduce the amount of debt students will take on.

“We have also increased the Student Premium for 2024-25 by £5 million to top up the help that universities are providing through their own bursary, scholarship and hardship support schemes.”