10 Astonishing Statistics About UK Student Life

18 August, 2014

Image shows graduates in red and white throwing their hats in the air. The newspapers love a good statistic to jazz up a headline, but behind the figures you see bandied about in the press are some interesting insights into student life at UK universities.

From the cost of living to workload and course choice, there is much to be learned from the results of the student surveys you hear about on the internet and in the media. Aside from being fascinating in their own right, they paint an intriguing picture of university life when taken as a whole. Let’s take a look at ten of the most interesting and see what you can learn from them.

1. The average student spends as much on course costs as on food

Image shows an open, dog-eared textbook.

Textbooks can be surprisingly expensive.

You wouldn’t have thought that pens, books and other course costs would add up to as much as the cost of food, but according to this estimate, course costs add up to an average of £32 a week. This includes the cost of stationery, books, and any specialist equipment required for the course, in addition to expenses incurred from photocopying course materials. This compares with £30-33 a week spent on shopping for food. This is a useful statistic for those about to go to university, who may be thinking about budgeting for the first time. There are, of course, ways of bringing down the cost of course materials; books, for example, can be acquired considerably cheaper by purchasing them second hand, or by borrowing them from the library.

Image is a button that reads "Browse all Student Life articles."2. Student rents in the South are twice as high as the North

It’s fairly well known that the cost of living is somewhat higher in the South of England than it is in the North, but the statistic that rents are now twice as expensive in the South than they are in the North is rather an eye-opener. With the UK average undergraduate accommodation rent now £70 per week, it’s alarming to learn that average rents in London are a whopping £107.29 per week. The cheapest rents are to be found in Wales; it costs an average of just £45.94 per week to rent in Pontypridd. Other cheap cities include Stockton (£47.45 per week), Stoke-on-Trent (£49.20 per week) and Middlesbrough (£49.21 per week). Student rents are higher in cities in which desirable universities are located; Cambridge has the fourth highest student rents in the country, for instance, and Oxford the seventh highest. But only in London is the high cost of rent taken into consideration in the amount of student funding available; students living in London are entitled to over £2,000 a year more than those living outside the capital. It’s those living in other expensive cities, for whom no extra funding will be available, who will have to find the extra money some other way (see later in this article for where students are gaining their funds).

3. The average Cambridge student has 608 UCAS points

Image shows Cambridge university.

Though Cambridge does not require its students to have taken 4 A2-levels, their entry statistics show that a lot of students do.

We all know that Cambridge University is one of the most competitive in the world, but this fact is brought home with the statistic that the average Cambridge student holds an impressive 608 UCAS Entry Points. This compares with 582 at Oxford and 560 at Imperial College London. To achieve 600 UCAS points, you need three A-levels at A* grade, plus three AS levels at A grade. Those achieving more than 600 are perhaps gaining extra UCAS points through taking other qualifications on top of their A-levels; you can see how to boost your own number of UCAS points in our article on 10 Brilliant Ways to Get More UCAS Points.

4. 80% of students constantly worry about money

According to the Student Money Survey 2014, students aren’t as carefree as they’re typically portrayed to be. 80% of students surveyed, or four out of five, said that they worry constantly about money, with 46% saying that their money worries had an adverse impact on their studies, and 58% saying that it had an impact on their diet (presumably through the need to eat more cheaply). The student comments on this survey are revealing, too, with one commenting that their friend was forced to turn vegetarian because they couldn’t afford meat anymore, and another saying that they have to starve themselves to make food supplies last a week. It’s a sobering thought, but it is contradicted by a couple of the other comments. One student observes that it’s perfectly possible to “live within your means”, but that “some people just don’t know what their means are”; another thinks that “a lot of students exaggerate their money struggles as a point of pride”. Perhaps the situation isn’t so bad after all; but this statistic certainly does underline the point that budgeting is of paramount importance in managing student finances. Our next point, then, is even more worrying…

5. 1 in 3 students have never budgeted

Image shows the bottom of a piggy bank with coins falling out of it.

Budgeting is a vital skill.

The aforementioned Student Money Survey also found that one in three of those surveyed had never budgeted. This reveals a general lack of awareness of the importance of managing money sensibly, suggesting that better education is needed on personal finance while still at school. Perhaps that’s why so many students are worrying about money – because they lack the financial education that would enable them to keep control of their spending. Financially astute students can start learning the art of budgeting while they’re still at school. All you need to do to get used to managing your income is to get a part-time job and see how far you can make your income go. The practice gained from doing this will prove invaluable when managing larger amounts of money at university, and will mean that it’s much easier to make do with the funds you have available. Having a defined budget in place forces you to be more creative and resourceful with what you buy, particularly when it comes to food!

6. Income from student loans is £277 short each month

Another finding from the Student Money Survey backs up the oft-quoted advice that the income students receive from student loans isn’t enough to cover basic living costs. Students find themselves £277 short per month on average, leaving them to find other means of generating the extra income. 18% rely on their parents to meet the shortfall, which is unsurprising; given that the means-tested maintenance grant system works on the basis of household income, it would appear that the Government expects parents to foot some of the bill for their children’s education.

Part-time jobs were the second biggest source of income, with 16% of students taking on part-time jobs alongside their studies to fund the shortfall. One would have expected the number of students with part-time jobs to be higher; figures elsewhere have put the percentage of students in part-time work substantially higher than this. Student comments on the survey raised concerns about the impact a part-time job has on their studies and relationships. 12% of students were using their overdraft to fund the difference, and 11% relied on grants, while 3% used credit cards. Worryingly, 1% used pay day loan companies, which are notorious for charging extortionate interest rates.

7. £9,000 tuition fees resulted in 18 minutes of extra teaching time

Image shows a student and a teacher sitting at a desk.

Most student contact will not be one-to-one.

The well-publicised trebling of tuition fees to £9,000 a year has seen quite a few newspaper articles discussing the fact that universities are having to work harder to give students value for money, so it might come as a surprise to you to learn that students have gained just 18 extra minutes of teaching time since the fee increase, while they are also putting in 79 more minutes of independent studying. The results of a survey conducted in 2013 by Which? were compared with those of another study, discussed here in The Guardian, from 2006. In 2006, the average time students were spending with lecturers was 13 hours and 45 minutes, but in 2013, after the rise to £9,000 a year, students were spending an average of 14 hours and three minutes with lecturers – just 18 minutes more, despite paying £8,000 more in tuition fees. The time students spend studying independently has risen more, to 14 hours and eight minutes, which is an increase of an hour and 19 minutes on the 2006 figure. So they’re paying more, but having to spend more time studying on their own – which suggests that the extra tuition fees are not paying for extra tuition. Of course, stark figures like this say nothing about the quality of that tuition, which may have improved; and tuition fees also cover many other aspects of a student’s education, such as improving facilities, careers advice and libraries.

8. The average student spends £10,000 a year while they’re at university

Another scary financial statistic is that the average student spends £10,000 a year when they’re at university – and that’s just covering the cost of living, not funding an extravagant lifestyle. So where does it all go? Not surprisingly, rent is the biggest expense, taking up 36% of a student’s budget (or as much as 50%, depending on which source of statistics you look at). Food and socialising are the next biggest expenses, while course expenses – such as books, field trips and equipment – also account for a significant proportion of a student’s annual bill. Travel costs also contribute to the £10,000 expense, and so do bills associated with renting private accommodation (such as utility bills, which are normally included with university accommodation).

9. 31% of students would have chosen a different course

Image shows two students walking together.

A remarkable number of students don’t seem to regret their course, yet would choose something different with hindsight.

A reminder of the importance of careful course selection when applying for university lies in the statistic that 31% of students – nearly one in three – would have chosen a different course if they were able to go back and choose again. The figure comes from 2014 research conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute, and it’s the case despite the fact that 86% of respondents reported that they are satisfied with their course. It’s surprising, then, that a relatively high proportion of students would choose a different degree if they could have their time again. This suggests that students may not be putting enough thought and research into making their initial choice, or that the university prospectuses and websites are providing insufficient information for students to make an informed choice. Given the amount of information available about courses through both university sources and student forums and review sites, the former seems far more likely; though there may be an element of “the grass is always greener on the other side” that makes students look at what their friends doing other subjects are up to and think that they’d rather be doing that. Whatever the reasons behind this finding, it does highlight the importance of diligent research when choosing a university course and being confident that you’ve chosen a course that will suit you. If you need help choosing which university course to apply for, you’ll find more advice in our guides on how to tell if a university degree is right for you and how to choose between two university courses.

10. Students doing medicine degrees study for almost twice as many hours as those on some other courses

Medicine is revered for being an incredibly demanding subject, and this is certainly backed up by the statistics on student workloads. In the same Higher Education Policy Institute report, it was revealed that those studying “subjects allied to medicine” studied for an average of 50.9 hours a week (including contact time with lecturers and independent study time). In stark contrast, students on mass communications and documentation courses studied for just 26.7 hours a week. Other subjects with demanding average workloads include biological sciences and engineering, while those with lesser average workloads tend to be studying humanities degrees. It’s no surprise, then, that science degrees typically yield higher starting salaries than humanities degrees. These differences in workload support the contention that not all degrees are created equal, and that some graduates surely come out of university with more worthwhile degrees than others, having worked considerably harder for their qualification.


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