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Landmark HEPI and TechnologyOne report shows students studying outside London need £18,600 to have an acceptable standard of living

  • 9 May 2024

A major new report by the Higher Education Policy Institute ( and TechnologyOne ( shows, for the first time, how much students need to have a minimum acceptable standard of living.

The Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) at Loughborough University has developed its Minimum Income Standard (MIS) research for over 15 years and for many different kinds of households.

Now, HEPI and TechnologyOne have partnered with CRSP to develop a Minimum Income Standard for Students. Based on focus groups with students situated across the UK, the authors constructed and costed a minimum basket of goods and services to develop an estimate for how much students need. The result is an estimate of what students need to participate fully in the world around them.

The findings were developed for 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students in private rented accommodation. These figures are a common baseline for all students, but the income needed may vary in some cases, particularly with costs such as rent and utilities which students may have relatively little control over, and for students in different types of accommodation.

However, the report does not argue the whole amount should be covered by government maintenance support. Instead, students might reasonably be expected to cover some costs themselves, such as through paid work.

You can read the full report here.

Key findings:

  • Excluding rent, students need £244 a week to have a minimum acceptable standard of living. Including rent, students need £366 a week.
  • Adjusting in line with rent prices in different parts of the UK, it is estimated that students need £18,632 a year outside London and £21,774 a year in London to reach MIS.
  • For a student studying outside London, the maximum government maintenance support, provided to support students to meet their living costs, falls short by £8,405 for English students, £6,482 for Welsh students, £7,232 for Scottish students and £10,496 for Northern Irish students.
  • For those studying outside of London, the maintenance support in England covers just 55% of the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) developed here. The Welsh maintenance support covers 65%, Scottish support covers 61% and Northern Irish support covers just 44% of MIS.
  • For students studying in London, the gap is £8,426 if a student is from England, with the loan covering 61% of students’ costs. The gap is £6,604 if they are from Wales (support covers 70% of costs), £10,374 if they are from Scotland (support covers 52%) and £10,922 if they are from Northern Ireland, where support covers just 50% of students’ living costs.
  • Even a student doing 10 hours a week of paid employment for the whole year and in receipt of the maximum maintenance support will not have enough money to reach MIS. English students must work nearly 19 hours a week at minimum wage, Welsh students more than 14 hours, Scottish students 16 hours and Northern Irish students 23 hours to reach MIS. By contrast, many universities recommend students should work no more than 15 hours during term-time.
  • The parents of an English student who receives the minimum maintenance support and does no paid employment would have to contribute £13,865 a year for the student to reach MIS. For a Welsh student, the contribution is £6,482; for a Scottish student, it is £10,232; and for a Northern Irish student, it is £13,548.
  • Additionally, under the current system, parents in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are expected to contribute to their children’s living costs even if they do not themselves have enough money for a minimum acceptable standard of living.

We recommend that:

  • The maximum level of government support should be increased in all four UK nations to help students reach MIS.
  • However, government maintenance support should not cover all students’ expected costs. Instead, they might reasonably be expected to do some part-time work (though not so much it interferes with their studies). The suggestion in the report is around 10 hours per week, all year, which is roughly equivalent to working full-time over the summer holiday. Adjustments should be made for students who cannot work, due to high workloads, they have a disability that prevents them from working or other reasons.
  • Parents should not be expected to contribute to their children’s living costs unless they have a minimum acceptable standard of living. This means the household income threshold at which parents are expected to start paying should be increased. Currently this stands at £25,000 in England, £21,000 in Scotland and £19,203 in Northern Ireland (parents are never expected to contribute in Wales).

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

Our current students are the next generation of teachers, doctors, nurses and scientists, and it is clear many are struggling to keep up with the cost of living. Students have different sources of funding to support their time at university, from parental support, earnings from term-time and summer jobs, and maintenance loans for those who qualify.

While universities do all they can to support students, the maintenance package is falling short and has not kept pace with inflation. In England, students receiving the maximum maintenance package are £1,903 worse off than they would have been if correct inflation measures were used over the last four years. It is imperative we look again at how well the current system is supporting students and what changes need to be made to continue widening participation in higher education for all learners regardless of their background. In England, this includes a need for the uprating of the student maintenance package, a reintroduction of maintenance grants for those most in need and a re-evaluation of household income thresholds – frozen since 2008.

Chloe Field, VP Higher Education at the National Union of Students, said:

This report is groundbreaking – and yet echoes what we in the student movement have said for almost the last ten years since the government took away student maintenance grants in 2015. After a decade of the poorest students graduating with the highest debt, it is clear that the current funding model for education is broken and needs urgent repair.

Student poverty has curtailed the aspirations of young people in this country. The image of students partying all the time, skipping lectures for hangovers isn’t true: we simply dream of a world where we can commit proper time and energy into our studies and can afford to spend time with our friends.

The upcoming General Election is an opportunity to change all this. We expect to see not only Manifesto commitments to uprating maintenance funding and the reinstating of maintenance grants but also action on this in the first 100 days of a new government.

Katherine Hill, Research Fellow at CRSP and a co-author of the report, said:

This research sets out what students themselves feel is required to participate in university life. Things like a laptop and mobile phone were seen as vital for studying and accessing uni accounts, and the students we spoke to emphasised the importance of being able to socialise, join university clubs or societies and go on course trips – as these are crucial to feeling included in the university experience. The cost of a shared TV as a cheap form of entertainment, or a few cushions and plants, were also seen as important to make their private rented accommodation feel more like a home.

However, over half of the minimum student budget covers rent and food at home – costs which are unavoidable. Students, like others, have faced increased costs of living, and those we spoke to recognised the pressures of juggling their finances alongside studying, worrying about money and having to work (more).

Our research describes a level that enables a student to meet their needs and feel included in university life, and provides a useful starting point in thinking about how their needs can best be met at this important stage of life.

Josh Freeman, Policy Manager at HEPI and a co-author of the report, said:

Though we have known for some time that student maintenance is inadequate across the UK, the size of the gap is striking. It is time for a rethink of student maintenance support.

The report is very clear that we do not expect the government to cover all students’ costs. In most cases, it might be reasonable for students to do some paid work. But the current situation, where many students have to work 20 hours or more to meet their costs, is unsustainable. Similarly, while it may be reasonable for some parents to contribute, the current expectation is highly demanding.

Leo Hanna, Executive Vice President, UK at Technology One, said:

It’s imperative to ensure every student thrives academically, socially, and economically, but this latest research into student living costs paints a bleak picture: financial assistance falls short, which we know hinders academic performance and leads to attrition.

Government policies that help alleviate such financial pressure have a significant part to play. As part of their duty of care to students, universities also need to make sense of a multitude of data points stored across disparate systems to monitor student wellbeing. But the current departmental, siloed approach and disparate software systems limit their ability to spot patterns or behaviours that, if caught early, could change the trajectory of a student.

Progressive organisations recognise that digital transformation plays an important part. Smart solutions can better support the administrative and pastoral needs of universities and their students. Our Software-as-a-Service solution for example provides higher education leaders with real-time, holistic data-driven insights that can be transformative.


  1. Through detailed discussions with groups of members of the public, a minimum basket of goods and services is constructed, which describes what this minimum living standard entails for different household types. This minimum basket is then costed and this provides the basis for calculating the income required to reach this minimum living standard.
  2. HEPI was founded in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. We are funded by organisations and higher education institutions that wish to support vibrant policy discussions, as well as through our own events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.
  3. TechnologyOne kindly provided financial support for this project. However, full editorial control was retained by HEPI.
  4. You can also read recent HEPI reports on the cost of student accommodation and universities’ responses to the crisis by following these links.

1 comment

  1. Paul Wiltshire says:

    As a parent with 4 children aged 18-24 all currently in the Uni system or having just gone through , I completely agree that the Maintenance Loan isn’t enough. But that is a good thing as it will reduce their debt , as it encourages them to work part time during their course and full time during their holidays rather than take out easy debt in the form of student loans. The alternative of a higher maintenance loan ends up with them more in debt and it is irresponsible for the Govt to lend money to young impressionable adults , who then have a lifetime of paying it back.

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