Since they've been introduced, tuition fees in the UK have been controversial. Working out how much you'll pay in tuition fees in the UK is a complicated mix of where you come from, where you go, what year you're in, what type of course.
Home students are British and other European Union citizens, the level of fees the university charge is regulated by the government. These can change on a yearly basis according to the university rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The TEF gave grades of gold, silver and bronze to successful universities, which allows them to raise fees in line with inflation.
If you do a sandwich course; taking a year away from the university; then you'll probably have to pay a reduced level of fees for that year. Even though you'll have very little to do with the university during your time away.
For international students, I'm afraid there are no guidelines or limits. It is a free market. The universities can charge whatever they think they can get away with charging. This ranges from £12,000 a year for a lecture-based course up to £25,000 a year for practical courses like science, computer science, architecture, or medicine.
If you're an international student, your fees may vary depending on what year it is. For example, if you're the first year is lecture-based your payment may be on the lower side. Whereas if it gets more practical based, ending with your final year being completely lab-based, then fees may be much higher in the last year than they were in the first year.
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University is a massive investment. Not only is it three, four five years of your life, but it is tens of thousands of pounds. Can you afford not to go to university? How much do you have to pay upfront, and what do you do if you can't get a job afterward?
Among the things that so many of you are worried about is tuition fees and if you can afford to go to university or not. I'm sure you've heard loads and loads of horror stories about the amount of debt you'll be in if you go to university and when you finish university. I'm going to break things down and try and make things as transparent as possible for you.
While you're at university, there are going to be two main areas that your money's going to go, your tuition fees and your living costs. You can get a loan toward your tuition fees of up to £9,250, depending on where you live and what course you're doing. And you can get a further loan to cover your living costs. The tuition fee loan is paid straight to university so that you won't see that; you won't deal with that. The living cost loan is paid to you, straight into your bank account, on like a termly basis.
The loan to cover your living costs would depend on what type of course you're doing; whether you're doing a teaching course, a medical course; what kind of background you come from; whether your parents are in employment; whether you have support from your parents or partner; how much your parents and partner are earning; whether you're going to university in London; whether you're going to university outside of London; whether you're going to be living at home and whether you're going to be living away from home. These only have to be paid back once you've left university and once your income passes a certain threshold, currently set at £21,000. Then you only pay it back as a percentage of your income. Interest on the amount is charged right from the beginning, and you have to pay that bit off as well.
You do not have to pay for university upfront. You do not have to start saving money straight away. You'll get a loan, and then you pay it back years later once you're earning.
Let's work with an example. We have a student whose both parents are employed. They're each making £20,000 a year, so the combined income of £40,000, a little bit below the national average. Going to be going to university full time, paying £9,250 in tuition fees, and living away from home, outside of London. They will get £9,250 in tuition fee loans each year, and then on top of that, they will also get £4,920 loan for living costs.
You're going to get roughly £14,000 in loans a year. Over a four-year course, taking into account interest, by the time you have to start paying it back, this is going to make around £60,000. It sounds like a lot of money, and it is a lot of money, but it shouldn't be scary.
Somebody who has no parental help, living and studying in London, can get up to £11,000 pounds for living costs as well as the £9,250 for tuition fees. They're going to have a loan of £20,000 per year, or £80,000 after 4 years.
You’ve got massive debt when we're coming out of university, but how much are you going to pay back?
Once you start earning over £21,000, you pay it back at nine percent of your income over £21,000. The average starting salary for a graduate is £25,000, so you pay interest on the difference between £21,000 and £25,000 that's £4,000. At nine percent of that £4,000, This works out as £30 a month from a take-home salary of £1,690, not very much at all. Not a massive impact on your daily life. That's a takeaway pizza or going out, or a pair of shoes. If you earn less than £21,000, you'll pay nothing. You don't have to worry about paying it back at all. You only pay it back once you pass £21,000, and then you just make payments for 30 years. After 30 years, it's entirely written off. If you have a starting salary of £25,000, in 30 years, you'll have paid off about 80% of your debt, and then the rest of it will just be forgotten. It is not the horror story that the newspaper headlines are trying to make it out to be. Yes, having owed £50,000 or £60,000 pounds in your early 20s, is scary, it is a lot of money, but the repayments are very manageable. It's a small amount of your take-home pay, and that level of pay may be one you might not be able to get if you didn't go to university and didn't get that degree.
There are lots and lots of things you need to take into account when you decide to come to the UK to study as an international student. The biggest chunk of the cost for you is going to be tuition fees, which can range from £12,000 up to £20,000, depending on the location of the degree, whether it's an academic subject, whether it's a lab-based subject, which year of your degree you're in, and exactly the subject that you are doing.
On top of that you're going to have roughly £9,000 living costs, raising up to about £13,000 if you are studying in one of the big cities like London, Oxford, Cambridge, or Edinburgh.
You need to take into account your costs of traveling home, not all universities will let you stay there over the holidays, so you might be forced to go home for Christmas, as your accommodation may be used for tourists during that time, you're going to have to factor in the cost of traveling home, three or four times a year. Communications with home might require you to get a more expensive mobile phone contract than other people, you might need to get calling card, or you might need to consider accommodation which has Wi-Fi included, as not all of them do.
University can be really expensive and added on top of the expense is the stress that potentially for the first time in your life, you are in charge of managing your finances. So, can you afford to go to university?
In this chapter I'm going to talk you through estimated costs for each week at university, extrapolate across each year. Compare this value to the loan you're going to get for your living fees and then talk about what you can do with the difference.
The first thing and the most important thing is accommodation. Now at university there is a wide range of accommodation, from shared rooms and self-catering to en-suite rooms which are fully catered. Everything in between as well. These rooms can go for about £100 a week up to about £200 a week, but for this I’ve gone for a middle range figure about £140 a week. You can expect to spend about £30 a week on food, about £10 a week on transport, and about £5 a week on your phone. Socializing at university is pretty cheap, so only about £30 a week, and then other things like stationary, photocopying, pens, things in which you need for your course, is going to be work out about £5 a week. All of this together is going to come to £225 a week of living costs while you're away at university.
Estimated cost each week
Social life £30
School supplies £5
Estimated cost for 40 weeks at university £9,000
While the actual length of the course varies. Some terms are very short, some are very long, and you have the holidays to include in that as well. It's roughly 40 weeks that you'll be at university. £225 pounds a week times 40 brings us out at £9,000 a year.
There are some additional expenses as well, for example at the start of the course you're going to need to buy some books, which are going to be a couple a hundred pounds. For lab-based courses, you might need to buy a lab coat or equipment. You might also want to buy yourself a computer to use in your room.
All of these estimates are going to vary by person. The food cost will range depending on whether you eat meals you've made yourself or whether you eat out. Socializing would depend on how much you drink, how often you go out, and whether you go to student bars or whether you go to ones that make fancy cocktails. The transport costs would depend on whether you're living on campus, which quite a few of you will be doing for your first year, so you'll be able to walk to lectures, or whether you have to get a bus or a train to your lectures. And if some of you are studying in London, the cost of the Tube is actually quite expensive.
A few of the universities have published their estimates for how much they think it will cost. Edinburgh’s estimates are between £7,000 and £13,700 a year. Manchester estimate about £9,000. The NUS say it's about £13,000 in London and about £12,000 for the rest of the UK. Birmingham says just below £9,000, and Oxford says a year there will cost you between £12,000 and £18,000.
This money is not including the tuition fees. The tuition fees are on top of that. You're going to get your tuition fee loan which is going to be up to £9,250 to cover your tuition fees. You won't see that money. That just gets paid straight to the university.
The living cost loan, is the bit that gets paid to you. Your living cost loan is going to be about for the majority of students £4,920 a year. This is quite different from my estimate of £9,000 a year for you to live on. It leaves you £4,080 short over the year or just over £100 a week for you to find so that you afford to go to university. You have three main options for this. Parental support; you can get a job while you're at university, or you can save up for it during the holidays.
The student loans company assume that your parents will be giving you some money. When you apply for your student loan, you tell student finance how much parental support you will be getting. Including information such as how much your parents make or whether you're in contact with your parents. If you are not going to be getting any parental support, then the level of loan you will receive will be higher, up to £11,000.
Saving up is a possibility, you have long summer, Christmas, and Easter breaks, so you have lots of time in there to work really hard and save up money for the term ahead. If you're going to be working during the term time, the minimum wage for 18-year-olds is £5.90 an hour. To make up that £100, this means you're going to have to work 17 hours a week. The advantage of any work that you do while you're at university is that it looks really good on your CV. The disadvantage is that you won't have as much time to study and you won't have as much time to socialize.
For the majority of you, it will be a combination of all three. There might be some parental support involved, you might get a job, and you might have some savings as well. I know that I worked 15 hours a week in the university library sorting out books. I know, it wasn't the most exciting job in the world, but I did love being in the library. And then on top of that, my parents helped me out a little bit as well.
The other hard part will come for when the loan is paid because the loan is paid on a termly basis, which means at the beginning of the term, you will have loads of money and everyone will go out that night and the next night and the next night and the next night. And then towards the end of term, you won't have any money, which is when frequently my friends and I would eat ‘tuna surprise’, the surprise being that we couldn't afford tuna and it literally was pasta and a tin of tomatoes.
Budgeting is tricky and it's especially tricky if you haven't had any help with doing it or it's something that you've never done before. There are lots of things you can do to influence how much money you spend a university, and if you budget wisely you can do it.
I love my university and the course I’m studying. But there are many things I’ve found out about along the way that I wish I had known before starting. My first two weeks in university were spent running around like a headless chicken. Due to size and amount of the rooms the university has I was never on time for my lectures. It took me a few weeks to familiarise myself with the layout of the university. Had I been forward thinking I would have settled into uni before the studying started. Once I received my timetable I could have visited each lecture room and made a mental map.
I also recall arriving to university with an absolute ridiculous amount of furniture. I really wanted to make my room as comfy and pretty as I could. Looking back that could have been achieved with half the stuff I brought along. Not only were some of my purchases a complete waste of money, they were also very impractical. I really did not need a £100 coffee machine for my room. The kettle in the kitchen worked just fine. I sold my coffee machine without even using it once.
I could have saved a lot of money by taking along with me pre-prepared snacks and lunch. I barely had time during the day to sit at the university cafe for a sit-down lunch. Not only would bringing my own food along with me being a healthier option. I wouldn’t have ended up spending extortionate prices on a chocolate bar and a ploughman’s sandwich.
This brings me to budgeting. With student loans coming into my bank account as a huge lump sum I tended to overspend on things that were unnecessary. I really didn't need the same bag in three different colours. Had I budgeted I could have had a fairly comfortable student life without looking for a part-time job.
One big lesson I also learnt was to make friends. I have a close-knit bunch of friends who I’ve known for years and I’ve never felt the need to make more friends. Whilst at university however making friends is simply networking. It helps to make friends with those on the same course as you especially when it comes time to creating study groups. These friends are useful in helping you to catch up on any work you may have missed out on due to illness.
Keeping on top of your work is probably one of the most important lessons I learnt. I now write up my lecture notes in an organised manner a few hours after the lecture has finished. The lecture is still fresh in my mind and the notes still make sense. It helps me to have a head start on exam preparation.
I have also learnt that I should enjoy every aspect of university. These few years are character building years. The good and the bad have allowed me to transform into a somewhat responsible adult.