Students under strain due to university living costs

New analysis from Which? University reveals how choosing where to study can have huge consequences on the cost of living for students – with a potential disparity of £15,000 over the course of a typical degree between the cheapest and most expensive UK regions.

Using data on student expenditure and the average cost of rent, Which? University ranked 12 regions across the UK to reveal the most expensive and cheapest areas for students to live.

London was ranked as the most expensive region, with students expected to pay on average, £14,200 a year on living costs.

While it is over £3,000 cheaper than London, the South East is the second priciest region for students, with the cost of living expected to set some back as much as £11,000 annually.

This is the same as the East of England, where students are also expected to spend on average £11,000 a year on living costs.

Which? University analysis also revealed Northern Ireland as the cheapest region for students, with annual living costs coming in at £8,800. That is a staggering £5,400 cheaper than London.

Wales is also ranked as one of the cheapest places for students with annual living costs coming in at £9,500.

Also among the cheapest is the North East where students can expect to spend £9,600 a year on living costs.

Many students look forward to the prospect of starting higher education and for lots this includes moving to a new city, however some may struggle to manage their finances if they choose to study in an area with high living costs.

In a recent Which? survey, 1 in 10 students admitted they had considered dropping out of university due to financial difficulties.

Worryingly, over 30 per cent of students said that money worries have negatively impacted their mental health/stress.

20 per cent of students also admitted to using their overdrafts to manage the cost of living at university, whilst 10 per cent told us that they had to rely on credit cards.

46 per cent of students also said they have had to turn to the bank of mum and dad to manage living costs.

With university students already under immense pressure, the importance of preparing for the financial cost of university has never been greater.

Which? University’s new student budget calculator helps students and their parents better understand the costs of living at university, and budget more effectively to manage their finances.

Using the tool, students can calculate their average monthly expenditure, including a breakdown of rent, utilities and transport costs etc.

It also factors in regional variables, providing students and their parents with a more accurate estimate of living costs at their chosen university city.

Alex Hayman, Which? Managing Director of Public Markets, said:

“The disparity in student living costs across the UK means students are not always able to prepare for the cost of living at university, especially if they have to change their plans at the last minute.”

“With results day approaching, Which? University’s student budget calculator can help students better understand the cost of living at their chosen university.”

Notes to editors

The Which? University Calculator shows the estimated median student expenditure in the UK, adjusted for regional price differences. We used four waves of the the Living Costs and Food Survey (2012 – 2015/16, prices adjusted for inflation), a survey conducted annually by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), to estimate the median student expenditure and the Relative Regional Consumer Price Levels (RRCPLs, produced by the ONS) to adjust for regional price differences. Private accommodation rent median values, were calculated using data from, for student Output Area Classifications as defined by the ONS, using 2011 census data.

The figures shown are the median expenditure for a student, if they were to spend money on all categories that appear in the calculator. These, along with the percentage of students that spent money on each is shown in the table below:

Calculator category

Percentage of students that spent on the category

Water & Energy


Mobile & Internet




Food Shopping


Coffee & Tea


Personal Care


Alcohol & Cigarettes




Going Out


Take Away & Snacks


Interest & Hobbies


Bank Charges & Fees


Holidays & Flights


Other Expenses


A regional breakdown of  the estimated median monthly  expenditure, including the cost of  rent is:


Monthly  expenditure + cost of rent (rounded to the nearest £1)

Yearly expenditure + cost of rent (rounded to the nearest £100)







East of England






South West



West Midlands



North West



East Midlands



Yorkshire & Humber



North East






Northern Ireland



In a survey of 5,000 undergraduate students, Which? University found:

  • 46% of students had asked parents/family for extra money to manage living costs
  • 40% of students said the cost of university was higher than expected
  • 31% of students said money issues had negatively impacted their mental health/stress
  • 13% of students said they have considered not continuing their studies due to financial difficulties

Calculate the cost of living at university, using

Which? University is a free and independent website to help students make more informed decisions about higher education, featuring more than 30,000 courses and 281 universities and colleges to search and compare. We bring together facts and statistics from official sources including UCAS and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), and combine these with real-life insight from students and the unbiased, expert analysis you’d expect from Which?


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