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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 September 2005, 01:36 GMT 02:36 UK
Who pays the fees in your family?
By Mike Baker
BBC News education correspondent

Mike Baker graphic
Heated debates in the Baker house
Have you remembered the kettle, wall-posters, and TV licence? Oh yes, and the reading list and a book or two?

This weekend hundreds of thousands of new students, and their parents, will be loading up their cars and heading to university campuses for the start of term.

I shall be joining them as I take my elder daughter to start her university course. I shall have mixed feelings: the house will be a lot tidier without her but I just know my wallet is going to suffer. There is even a possibility I might miss her a bit.

With record numbers starting courses this year, there is debate whether the surge in applications was an attempt by students to get in ahead of the misnamed 'top-up' fees that start in England next year.

Who should pay?

Ministers are privately concerned that, unless they can persuade people of the benefits of the new system, there could be a significant drop in applications next year.

So stand by for a major advertising campaign, including television commercials, on the merits of a system of post-graduation payment.

However, alongside the national debate, I suspect there is an equally lively discussion in many families about who pays: the parents or the student?

We have been having it in my house. We have also compared notes with friends whose children are also starting university.

Do you pay their rent, their living costs and their fees? Or just one of these? Or do you say: "right, you're on your own now" and "by the way, did you remember to fill out the student loan forms?"

I am beginning to realise that our decision to pay our daughter's rent, buy her a laptop, and leave the rest to her, may seem a little miserly

Many parents are no doubt sufficiently grateful that they do not have to pay 3,000 a year (the "fee" at most places from next year), that they are happily writing out the cheque for the current fee of 1,175.

Others may have worked out that, if their son or daughter waited until next year, they would be off the hook because the new "top-up fees" are only payable after the student has graduated and started to earn.

In other words, payment only becomes due after your offspring are well and truly off your hands (if there is such a time).

For this year, though, what is the right amount of help to give your student offspring, assuming you can afford to do so?

Most of us probably want our children to avoid starvation, have a decent room to sleep in, afford the necessary books, and not have to take paid employment during term time.

Clubbing and drinking

As it is, 40% of students do work during term-time, putting in an average of 14.5 hours a week, according to the Unite Student Experience Report.

On the other hand, why should we subsidise clubbing, drinking, mobile phone bills, and television licences?

After all (as my daughter has heard me say more than once), I didn't have a television or a mobile phone when I was a student. When she points out that mobiles had not been invented then, I say she is missing the point.

Students in a tea bar
How much do students need to live on?

And when I claim to have found all the entertainment I needed in the university library, she just rolls her eyes and mutters "whatever".

So what is a reasonable budget for a student? Does 100 a week on top of rent and fees sound reasonable? I thought so.

Yet, a recent study of students' living costs by the Royal Bank of Scotland found that, in 2004, the average British student spent 121.40 a week on living costs and 65.68 on rent.

On the basis of, say, 40 weeks a year at university, that is annual living costs of 4,856 plus 2,627 on rent.

Add in a certain amount for inflation, and that makes a total for 2005/6 of around 7,600. With fees on top, that makes a grand total of about 8,700.

Of course, there is the student loan. This is worth 4,195 but 25% of it is means-tested. So, most students will get 3,146.

Term-time jobs

Even as I write this, I am beginning to realise that our decision to pay our daughter's rent, buy her a laptop, and leave the rest to her, may seem a little miserly.

In her case, the rent in self-catering student halls is about 3,200, rather more than the average. Using the Bank of Scotland's figures, that would leave her having to find about another 6,000.

She is eligible for an official student loan of 3,146, which I will encourage her to take out. Yet that still leaves her short of some 2,850.

I would like her to foot the fees bill. This is in the (perhaps naive), hope that she will value the lectures and seminars that she is paying for.

So a summer job could earn her enough to pay the fees, with enough time and money left over for travel too.

After all, students do get about three months off in the summer and, unlike in our day, they don't seem to spend it all getting through their reading lists!

Who will relent?

That still leaves her short, overall, of around 1,700. Should I encourage her to build up one of those free overdrafts they offer with new student bank accounts?

Should I suggest that she finds a term-time job?

Or should I dig a bit deeper and contribute something to her general living costs with a stipulation that she is not to regard it as a contribution towards the fees?

No doubt, similar debates have raged in many families over the past few weeks. There are all kinds of moral leverage: "think how much you saved by not sending me to private school" or "it's all right for you, you had a full grant when you went to university".

Of course, learning how to argue a case, and accept defeat graciously, is a good preparation for university life.

But who is going to accept defeat: will I relent and pay her rent and a bit more or do I point to the new laptop and say "look, I've already spent more on you than I should have done"?

We shall have to see. Meanwhile, as a matter of interest, how much are you contributing towards your child's university costs? Do let us know.


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SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Student fees
14 Sep 05 |  Education
Most students fail to get grants
14 Jul 05 |  Education
Universities to charge top fees
17 Mar 05 |  Education
Graduate debts rise to 2.46bn
14 Apr 05 |  Education
Students 'spend 7,000 per year'
22 Aug 05 |  Northern Ireland


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