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Revealed: The cheapest and most expensive cities for students

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Edinburgh has been declared the most expensive UK city to be a student, with Bournemouth the most affordable place to study.

The Natwest Student Living Index takes account of student income and living costs to calculate a score for university towns and cities across the UK.

Researchers surveyed 3,052 students to determine the most affordable place to study, taking into account how much students spend on going out and the income they earn from part-time work.

Rent and food costs increasing

Researchers found that rent costs have increased by an average of 30% for students, with the national average monthly rent now at £592.

London is the most expensive city in the UK for students to rent, with an average cost of £840 a month.

Supermarket spend continues to be the second biggest outlay for students outside of rent, with monthly spend seeing a sizeable jump of 44% year-on-year, rising to £110 each month.

Sources of income

In Edinburgh, students have a monthly term-time income of £1,453, the lowest of all the cities ranked, while their total monthly spending stands at £1,073.

Students in Edinburgh are working more in part-time jobs and it is the only city which has seen an increase in the part-time working hours of students when compared to 2022.

In contrast to Edinburgh, Bournemouth is now the most affordable place to study, taking the top spot from Cardiff. Higher-than-average term-time incomes contributed to Bournemouth being named the most affordable student location.

The average term-time income for students in the city sits at £3,297, the second highest of all the cities surveyed. They spend an average of £1,225 in total – however, this is the second highest of all the cities in the Student Living Index. In comparison to other cities, just over seven in 10 (73%) students use their loan as their primary source of income.

Cost-of-living crisis

London is now the most expensive place for a pint, with students expecting to pay £5.51 per drink, followed by Cambridge with an expected average cost of £5.07. This contrasts with Lancaster, where students can expect to pay just £3.81.

Nearly half of students (46%) have found themselves running out of money by the end of term – up from 35% in 2022. Almost one in four students (24%) said they found managing their money stressful – an increase of 29% compared to last year. This is most pronounced in Bournemouth despite it being declared the most affordable place to study by Natwest.

In a sign that the cost-of-living squeeze is starting to hit home, students are spending an average of 24% less on going out than the previous year. Four in 10 (40%) of students felt their university offered no support to help them with the cost-of-living crisis, up from a quarter in 2022.

Nine in 10 (90%) students said they had made changes to their lifestyle in order to live within their budgets. That number jumps to 96% in Glasgow, Bournemouth and Cardiff.

While the majority of students haven’t considered leaving or ending their course early due to financial difficulties, it is something on their minds. One in five (21%) said they had considered it but would find a way to manage, while 29% said it was a concern for them.

Jaimala Patel, head of student accounts at NatWest, said: “An increased reliance on student loans and double digit increases in spending on food shopping and rent is having a real impact on student finances.

“There are some reassuring signs that students feel far more comfortable budgeting than in previous years, and they are taking steps to live within their means.”