Education & Family

Parents forced to cut back to pay university costs

Worrying about debt Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption About a tenth of parents borrow to cover their children's university costs

Hundreds of thousands of parents are cutting down on their "basic outgoings" to pay for their children's university costs, says a financial data company.

Experian has published research claiming that about one in five parents of students have faced financial pressures to support their children.

This includes paying for accommodation, travel and utility bills.

"University can be an extremely expensive time for parents and students alike," said Experian's Julie Doleman.

The costs are particularly tough if a family has more than one child in higher education at the same time, said Ms Doleman.

Record numbers

There are about 1.6 million UK undergraduates, which would mean more than 300,000 families are cutting back on spending to support their student children.

About 10% of students' parents reported borrowing or using credit cards to cover the expense, according to Experian's analysis of a representative sample of more than a thousand UK families.

The data firm, which provides information for credit references, says too many parents underestimate how much their children's university costs will affect them.

Even though university students are adults who have left home, the amount they can borrow in student loans and receive in grants is still dependent on their parents' income.

The full student grant and loan, with a combined value of about £7,000 a year, is available to students from families with a combined household income of £25,000 or less.

The more the parental joint income goes above this, the lower the grant and the amount that students can borrow, to a minimum of about £3,600 per year.

Parents are expected to cover the shortfall - and Experian suggests that this is putting many families under pressure.

About half of parents reported having to pay more than £5,000 towards their child's university costs.

This included anticipated items such as rent, food and books, but parents also reported having to lend children money at short notice, "bailing them out in an emergency".

Parents could also have to help with rising accommodation costs - universities in central London advise students that basic living expenses are more than £1,200 per month.

Experian's study claims that almost two in five parents "went without, to help fund their child's education" - and that about one in five faced even more hardship and were having to cut down on basic spending.

But a large majority of parents say they are willing to make the sacrifice to support their children.

"As young people start university, there are often unexpected costs that can be passed on to parents," said Ms Doleman.

These loans and parental support for living costs are separate from the £9,000 tuition fees, which are paid back by students when they start working and earn more than £21,000.

Record numbers of students are entering universities this autumn, and the removal of a limit on numbers next year is expected to lead to a 20% increase in undergraduate numbers.

Are parents facing financial difficulties when their children go to university? Should student loans be linked to parents' income?

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