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Angloinfo World: Property

Cheapest places in the UK for overseas students to live

January 18, 2017

Many expats from around the world choose to move to the UK for their higher education. Many will pay privately, and live in privately owned property, and some will secure a bursary or grant for all or part of the education costs. But how do students decide which university to go to? We take a look at some cost of living figures that could help expats choose.

Cheapest places in the UK for overseas students to live

About one-fifth of the UK’s higher education students will be expats in the UK. Figures from the latest Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) survey of 2015/16 university entrants show that UK domiciled students accounted for 81% of 2,280,830 enrolments at UK higher education establishments; 6% were other European Union (EU) domiciled students and the remaining 14% came from countries outside the EU.

How do undergraduate students choose which UK university to go to?

Thousands of 17- to 18-year-old students have recently made a list of four or five preferred universities and many will have received offers from those universities by now – based on what they are expected to achieve in their final school exams. Students now need to continue their studies, then take their exams in May and June of this year. If they get the grades they need, to meet the universities’ offers, they then need to make the all-important choice of which offer to accept and which university to attend…and where they will live for at least the next three years of their lives.

In a new survey of just over 2,500 current students, 48 percent thought subject choice was the most important motivating factor when they chose a university. The next motivator was the academic reputation of the university (28%). The cost of living in a preferred city was only considered by three percent of the students interviewed. The survey doesn’t state if the three percent who thought about cost of living were UK-domiciled students or expat students, but either way it’s interesting to note that so few thought about the cost of the city that they chose to live in.

Cheapest places in the UK for overseas students to live

During June 2016, the 2,500 students at 25 UK universities, who took part in the NatWest Student Living Index, were asked about the cost of living in the city they chose to study in.

The university cities in the survey spanned the British Isles from Dundee to Cardiff, Belfast to Cambridge and London to Exeter, including the location of many of the Russell Group universities.  The cost of living versus term-time income (from, for example, student loans, parent/family support, bursaries, grants, and part-time jobs) was compared across the 25 cities.

Portsmouth was found to be the most cost-effective city, followed closely by Liverpool, Newcastle and Exeter. The three most expensive cities were Edinburgh, Southampton and Cambridge.

The UK’s 10 most cost-effective student cities (source: Student Living Index 2016 NatWest):

Student Living Index 2016 / NatWest


What do students spend their money on?

The costs were calculated by dividing the average local weekly student expenditure on living and accommodation costs by average local weekly income.

After rent the greatest weekly expenditure was groceries, followed by household bills and eating out.

  • Groceries
  • Household bills
  • Eating out
  • Clothes, shoes and accessories
  • Alcohol
  • Going out
  • Transport back home
  • Car/day-today travel
  • Public transport/day-to-day travel
  • Mobile phone bills
  • Books and course materials
  • Home entertainment

Surprisingly, perhaps, students in London were paying below the national average (£109) for rent at £105.08 per week, and students in Oxford and Cambridge were paying the most rent at £135.38 and £131.48 respectively. Rent in Belfast was the least expensive at £73.81 per week, followed closely by Manchester at £76.48.

So, though the course itself is probably still the most important factor when choosing a university, if more than one university offers the same course these cost of living figures could be the next most important motivating factor for expat students to consider when choosing their preferred UK university location.

by Angloinfo World editor. Find out more about Angloinfo World editor here.

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