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Parents face steeper university costs


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Student loans often do not even cover the cost of accommodation, says the consumer website

Parents do not have enough warning about the cost of supporting their children in university in England, says a consumer rights campaigner.

Martin Lewis has written to the universities minister criticising the “lack of transparency” for parents.

The consumer website founder says parents are being expected to pay more this year, more than £5,300 annually.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said record numbers of poorer students were now at university.

But Mr Lewis, founder of moneysavingexpert.com, says the rising cost of supporting their student children was “another hit to many families already feeling the squeeze”.

Tuition fees in England are covered by loans, which students repay after they graduate and when they earn more than a certain amount annually.

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Martin Lewis says parents need better advice about university costs

But there are separate means-tested loans to cover students’ living costs – and Mr Lewis is warning that parents have not been adequately advised that they are expected to cover an increasing proportion of this.

This includes costs such as student accommodation, food and travel.

For students to receive the full loan, parents need a combined income of less than £25,000 per year.

For families earning more than this, they will be expected to pay towards living costs, with the consumer website calculating that this amount is rising by up to 27% this year.

How much does university cost annually, apart from tuition fees?

  • Accommodation (self-catered for 40 weeks): £4,995
  • Food: £1,525
  • Course costs: £420
  • Clothes: £400
  • Transport: £450
  • Other (such as socialising, mobile phones etc): £1,600
  • Total: £9,390

Source: Advice from Manchester University to undergraduate students. Accommodation costs can vary depending on location and facilities.

But Mr Lewis argues that it remains unclear to parents how much they are expected to pay – and that some students are left in a “dire” financial situation.

Even though the loan system is calculated to include the parental contribution, he says that parents are not sufficiently aware of this cost and students can be left without enough support.

“It’s just left for it to dawn on parents.”

The upper family earnings threshold is about £62,200 – and a student whose parents have a combined income above this will only be eligible for the minimum maintenance loan.

For students studying away from home and outside London, this minimum loan is £3,821 per year.

It can mean parents being expected by the government to pay more than £5,300 per year – but depending on accommodation costs, the figure could be even higher.

Mr Lewis says that there has been a message “you don’t need to pay up front to go to university” – and this might be the case for tuition fees – but it has failed to let parents know how much they will be expected to pay.

Without parents making up the shortfall, he says for many students the loans available will not be enough.

“For a huge majority of students it simply won’t cover even basic accommodation costs.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We have increased maintenance support for students from the lowest income backgrounds by 10%.

“As the OECD has recognised, this government’s approach to student finance is sustainable. Maintenance support is provided as a contribution to students’ costs.‎ Financial assistance is also available through universities.”

Do parents get enough warning about how much they will have to pay? Does this cause financial problems for families? You can share your comments by emailing [email protected].

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