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New students approaching financial crisis, NUS & Push surveys warn

Two new surveys conducted by the NUS and reveal that prospective university students lack information and guidance about how to manage their finances.

The NUS survey is funded by HSBC, and is the first instalment of an innovative three-year research project into students’ lifestyles in relation to their expenditures. It reveals that the average cost of university life is £450 a year higher than students expect. Key figures which are commonly underestimated include groceries – students expect to spend £510 annually on groceries, when they actually spend £710; household bills – £740 is spent instead of the anticipated £580; and travel – £385 is spent rather than £285.

The NUS survey reveals that students expect more financial help than they will in fact receive. Some 42% believe they will be entitled to a bursary to aid with their studies, when in reality only 28% receive one.

The consequence of all this is that students wind up increasingly in debt, and by their third year they start to worry about their overdrafts.

NUS President Wes Streeting said: “As the credit crunch kicks in, and with food and fuel costs set to rise even further, we can expect more and more students to get into serious financial difficulty, with many having to resort to taking out commercial loans, or being bailed out by their parents.

“It is extremely worrying that so many students expect to receive financial support, yet do not go on to claim it. At the moment, each university is left to administer its own bursary system, and students tell us that the application process is often very confusing.”

Mr Streeting further suggests: “Instead of the system being different in every university, we need a single national student support scheme, so it is simpler for students to make a claim, and so that support is based on what students need, not where they study.”

Another UK survey published by, the UK’s leading independent resource for prospective students, has discovered that students who started at university last year can expect to owe in excess of £17,500 by the time they graduate, and new students can expect to owe nearly £4,000 more than that. Student debt now tops £4,500 for each year of study – an increase of 9.6% since last year. The Push survey is equally innovative in its methods, with Push staff interviewing over 2,000 students at 136 UK universities face-to-face.

The differing funding arrangements around the UK are also reflected in the data. In Scotland, debts are lowest, although the Scottish average of £3,453 annually is still an increase of nearly a third in the past year. Students in England owe more than an annual £199 above the national average, with an overall annual average of £4,729.

There are also significant differences between individual universities. The national average projected debt on graduation stands at £14,161, but at 11 universities the figure has already exceeded the £20,000 barrier. For others, borrowing is likely to remain under £10,000. editor Johnny Rich said: “It’s easy to become immune to stories about student debt, but this increase is not just another rise. Some students are facing real financial hardship. Even so, the advantages of having a degree still vastly outweigh the costs and the Push survey shows that – with high quality advice and information – students can keep their debts down while still enjoying the benefits of university.”

By Ryan Daff

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