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Parents in England expected to contribute up to £15,000 a year towards children's university living costs, new report finds

Parents and carers in England have to contribute up to £15,127 a year in order for their children to have a minimum acceptable standard of living at university, according to a major new report published today. It follows a long-running campaign by urging the Government to increase university living loan amounts and to make the hidden parental contribution more transparent.

The report, published today by think-tank the Higher Education Policy Institute and software firm TechnologyOne, found that university living loans are falling far short of what students actually need to meet their essential everyday needs, including rent.

You can use our University Parental Contribution Calculator to see how much the Government expects you to give your child while they're studying. Or, if your child's not at university yet, try our How much should you save for your child to go to uni? calculator.

University living loans are too low across the UK, the report found

According to the report:

  • Students across the UK need £366 a week to cover their rent and have a minimum acceptable standard of living. Adjusting in line with rent prices in different parts of the UK, the report estimates that students need £18,632 a year outside London and £21,774 a year in London to reach this basic standard of living.

  • Without parental support, English students must work nearly 19 hours a week at minimum wage to reach this standard. For Welsh students it's more than 14 hours; for Scottish students it's 16 hours; and for Northern Irish students it's 23 hours.

    This is despite the fact that many universities recommend students should work no more than 15 hours during term-time.

    As a result, the report calls for the maximum level of Government support to be increased in all four UK nations so that students only need to work around 10 hours a week all year (the equivalent of working full-time over the summer holiday).

  • English students not working and getting the minimum living loan need up to £15,127 a year in support from their parents to meet their basic living costs. For Welsh students the figure is £6,482; for Scottish students it's £10,232; and for Northern Irish students it's £13,548.

    Even those getting the maximum living loan have a large gap to fill – between £6,500 and £11,000, depending on which UK nation they're from and whether they're studying in London or outside it.

    The report argues that parents should not be expected to contribute to their children's living costs unless they have a minimum acceptable standard of living themselves – and so it calls for an increase to the household income threshold at which parents are expected to start paying.

In response to the report, the Government said it had already increased the amount available for its loans and grants for this academic year, as well as for the next one – though these rises have been by less than inflation meaning a cut in real terms. The Government added that it's also frozen tuition fees for the seventh year running. 

Martin: 'English student living loans have been cut in real terms and are not enough for some to live on'

MSE founder Martin Lewis

In January this year, Martin wrote to the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt urging him to, among other things, increase the living loan for English students in line with the cost of living. In his letter at the time, he said:

"That 'no need to have funds upfront' principle is under threat right now because the living loan for students in England has been substantially cut in real terms.

"This is especially detrimental to those from low-income and non-traditional university backgrounds who rely on the full loan (which is means-tested based on parental income) as there are no parental funds to support them.

"As this has happened during a time when rents have rocketed, the shortfall in funding risks depriving those students of the ability to go to courses, and risks increasing dropout rates while there. Last year, your government only uprated student maintenance loans in England by 2.8%, while inflation was running at double digits.

"There is an inconsistency here: the student maintenance loan is a seemingly arbitrary figure, yet the interest on student loans is pegged to inflation. This causes a problem both in actual terms, as the uprating does not keep up with the cost of living and due to the inconsistency itself, which denies students and parents a locked-in expectation of their funding over a three-year course."

Following the announcement that the living loan would only rise by 2.5% this year, Martin added: "This is another nail in the coffin of student finance. Too much of the media and political focus is on tuition fees. In fact, they're not a problem for students; they're an issue for graduates once they leave.

"Having enough money to pay the rent and bills is a problem for students. The system has long been creaking. I hope this latest cut doesn't make it finally crack."

The amount of living loan students under 25 get is based on their parents' income

In England, the maximum loan amount depends on whether you live at home or go away to study. Within that, for most under-25s the amount is means-tested based on annual family income – the higher the income, the lower the loan.

The loan amount starts reducing with family income of just £25,000 a year – and many parents are unaware that the system implies that they should make up the shortfall, which can be £1,000s.

For full info on what this means and how it works in practice, see our Student loans in England guide, plus use our Parental Contribution Calculator to work out the proportion of the maximum loan you can expect.

See our Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales student loans guide for more on how they work in the rest of the UK. 

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