Student finance, discounts and budgeting tips for surviving university in a cost of living crisis

Here’s everything you need to know about student loans, grants and bursaries, and other ways to budget money in the cost of living crisis

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Students should be having the time of their lives at university. Instead, they're having to worry about the cost of living crisis. Image: Pexels

So you’ve done the hard part – aced your A-levels, got into university, and you are a good way through the academic year.  

You’ve been told university is supposed to bring the best years of your life – but that’s only if you can afford everything that comes with the “proper experience” while living through a cost of living crisis.

We’re not going to tell you to cut back on luxuries like Netflix and avocado toast (young people get told that enough already). Students shouldn’t have to cut back on their social lives so they can afford to pay for rent or groceries, although the reality is many are being forced to make those sacrifices.

A survey by Save the Student found that students’ living costs have increased by 14 per cent since 2021. The average student now spends around £924 a month, and in London it’s even higher at £1,089 a month. That means the average student’s maintenance loan falls short by around £439 every month.

A National Union of Students survey of 3,500 students and apprentices has found that 96 per cent of students are cutting back on spending, and almost a third are left with just £50 a month after paying rent and bills.

The government has announced that maintenance loans will be increasing, but only by 2.8 per cent. That’s nowhere near inflation which is currently around 10 per cent. 

Bearing that in mind,  if your loan isn’t enough to cover the cost of living, you might have to get financial support or find ways of making money elsewhere. Here’s everything you need to know about how much you can get with a student loan, whether you might be eligible for a grant or bursary, and other ways to budget your money in the cost of living crisis. 

How much can I get in a student loan?

Undergraduate students can get a loan to cover the full cost of their university tuition fees. It’s worth up to £9,250 – depending on the cost of their tuition. It’s slightly less if you go to a university in Wales, where they charge £9,000 a year. And if you’re Scottish and go to university in Scotland, you won’t pay any fees at all. 

The government has confirmed it will continue to freeze tuition fees for a standard full-time course in the 2023/24 and 2024/25 academic year in England at a maximum of £9,250.

Students starting an accelerated degree course can apply for a tuition fee loan of up to £11,100. When studying abroad, you can get tuition fee loans of up to £1,385. When on a work placement year, students can get up to £1,850. 

Tuition fee loans are paid directly to the university, and you won’t need to worry about paying it back until you’ve graduated and are earning above a certain threshold.

Undergraduate students can also get a maintenance loan to cover living costs. If you are living with your parents, the maximum loan you can get is £8,171. If you are living away from your parents, the maximum is £9,706 (or £12,667 if you are living in London).

The government has confirmed that loans and grants to support undergraduate and postgraduate students with living and other costs will be increased by 2.8 per cent for the 2023/24 academic year.

Student accommodation prices have increased by 61 per cent in the last decade, according to the NUS, which has launched a campaign calling for the government to increase maintenance loans in line with inflation. 

You can use the student finance calculator to estimate how much maintenance loan you’ll get. It will also tell you if you’re eligible for extra grants or allowances.

Master’s students can get a loan of up to £11,836, and doctoral students can get up to £27,892. This is different to the undergraduate loan because it’s paid directly to you, meaning you can decide whether you use it on your tuition fees or to cover living costs. 

How do I apply for student finance and what is the deadline? 

The deadline for applying for student finance for the 2022/2023 academic year was May 20 for new students and June 24 for returning students. But don’t worry – you can apply late. You can actually apply for funding up to nine months after the first day of the academic year for your course. 

Student finance applications for the next academic year are expected to open around March this year and typically close in May. 

If your home address is in England, you can apply through Student Finance England’s website. Scottish students can apply through the Student Awards Agency Scotland website. Welsh students can apply for student finance in Wales and Northern Irish students can apply through Student Finance NI. It will take around 30 minutes to apply, and you need to reapply each year of your university course. 

Can I get a grant, bursary or scholarship from my university to cover costs?

With the average student £439 short every month after they’ve received their maintenance loan, it’s no surprise that many look for other ways to cover their university costs. You may be eligible for a scholarship bursary or grant. These don’t have to be repaid so they’re definitely worth a look, even if you don’t think you would be eligible. 

Have a look at your university’s website, or contact their financial support team, to see what scholarships and bursaries they offer. There is a real range, and you can find some based on academic, musical or sporting achievements and others based on your personal circumstances and background. 

Stormzy launched a scholarship at Cambridge, covering the full tuition fees and providing a maintenance grant to at least 10 Black students this year. A number of universities across the UK are offering scholarships to Ukrainian nationals. 

Some universities are making specific arrangements to help students in the current crisis. The government announced it will provide an additional £15 million in hardship funding this financial year so that universities can provide extra support to students – but with just under two million students in the UK, this works out at just under £8 per person.

It builds on the £261m the government provided to the Office for Students (OfS) for the 2022/23 academic year which universities can draw upon to boost their own hardship funds.

The University of Southampton has made a total of £1.1m in the current academic year available to students to cover emergency costs.

Queen Mary University of London has a bursary scheme automatically provided to any domestic undergraduate from a family whose annual taxable income is below £20,000.

And the University of York announced that £150 would be given to student households who are finding it difficult to pay their bills as part of a £6m package to support students most in need.

Minister for higher education, Robert Halfon, said: “I’m really pleased to see that so many universities are already stepping up efforts to support their students through a variety of programmes. 

“These schemes have already helped students up and down the country and I urge anyone who is worried about their circumstances to speak to their university.”

Can students get grants from charities?

Help may also be available to you through bursaries or charitable grants to help with books, equipment and other educational costs. You can use Turn2us’ Grants Search to find out what grants you are eligible for. 

Many charity grants will help people from disadvantaged and low-income backgrounds, but there are also some more unusual ones. The Graham Trust Bursary Scheme is open to students with the surname Graham, or descendants of the Graham family, who are studying at a higher education institute in Glasgow.

The government also offers grants for students with children – see the Childcare Grant, Parents’ Learning Allowance and Adult Dependents’ Grant – and for disabled students in the form of the Disabled Students Allowance

Medical and dentistry students may be eligible for NHS bursaries and a grant to cover some travel expenses. Nursing and midwifery students can get the NHS Learning Support Fund and social work students can get social work bursaries. You can also apply for extra funding if you’re a teacher training student.

Where can I get student discounts?

Many major retailers and companies offer student discounts. When at a shop counter, it’s worth asking whether they do a student discount because you might just get some money off your purchase. 

There are some great discounts out there for students. Amazon offers six months of Prime free for students, and after that it’s half price at £4.99 a month. EE has a 20 per cent discount on phone plans, you can get three months free of Apple music and Voxi offers one month free for students. 

If you sign up for Unidays and StudentBeans (both are free), you can get a huge range of discounts – usually ranging between 10 and 20 per cent. There are plenty of limited-time offers too, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for the best deals. 

You could also get a Totum card, previously known as an NUS card. This gives you access to more than 300 student discounts and you’ll also get an official student ID card, which is accepted in over 130 countries. It’s £24.99 for all three years of your university course which gives you access to the card. 

Alternatively, it’s completely free to sign up to Totum digital – you won’t get the physical card, but you’ll still get access to more than 300 online discounts from major retailers like ASOS, Amazon and Apple. If you’re more of an online shopper, this is probably the best option for you as you won’t need the card. 

How can students make money?

If your loan isn’t stretching far enough and you’re not eligible for a grant or bursary, you will probably have to start looking for other ways to make money. Many students will be looking for part-time jobs at this time of year. Big Issue Recruit has a database of thousands of jobs, including many part-time jobs which could work for students. It’s a new service launched to create opportunities, particularly for people who traditionally face barriers to employment.

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Save the Student also has a database of more than 15,000 part-time student jobs. You might also find local shops, restaurants and bars looking for staff when the university term begins. A quick search online can help you find these, or you could keep an eye out for ads in shop windows. 

Most universities also have job placements for students which you can fit around your studies. You might want to work as a student ambassador on open days and at official university events, for example, or as a steward in your university’s theatre or arts centre. 

It’s also worth selling your books to students in the year below once you’ve finished using them. Many societies have their own book selling events or Facebook groups where students can sell items to each other – or you could set up your own. Other students sell their clothes on apps and websites like eBay and Depop. 

Find out more ways to make extra money in the cost of living crisis here

How do I plan a budget as a student?

You’ve probably already been told about the importance of budgeting as a student. Parents and teachers have likely warned you this is your chance to start managing your own finances now that you’ve finally moved out and are making steps into the adult world. But it’s easier said than done, especially in the cost of living crisis. 

UCAS has a budget calculator, telling you how much you are likely to spend depending on your university. Realistically though, prices are going to vary hugely depending on your circumstances and could go up as bills increase over the next few months, so just use this as guidance before making your own budget. 

Money Saving Expert has some tips on planning your budget. Simply put, you want to write down a list of all the incoming money you’ve got (this includes loans, grants and any salary from jobs) and all the outgoings (money spent on groceries, travel, entertainment, rent, bills, tuition fees and course equipment).

Once you’ve worked out what you can afford to spend, you’ll have to track your bank account to make sure you’re keeping to your budget. Many students find online bank accounts like Monzo useful, where you can manage your money on the app. 

If you find that you’re quickly going over budget, don’t panic – there are ways to scrimp and save. You might have to get more clever about your grocery shopping, for example. Last month, chef Tom Kerridge shared his top tips on saving money when cooking with the Big Issue. There are plenty of blogs, websites and recipe books aimed at helping students cook on a budget – we’ve compiled a long list of places to find cheap recipes here.

It might be worrying to think about budgeting in the cost of living crisis, but once you’ve started and got your head around your finances, it will get much easier. If you need extra support, your universities’ financial support team should be able to point you in the right direction to get help.

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