The University of Suffolk has a team of Parent/Carer Ambassadors who have experience of supporting at least one young person into Higher Education. Here two ambassadors provide their thoughts about things that stood out for them in this process.
Dave Alley - A parent’s experience of Student Finance. And other tips!
Taking on the student finance package sounds like a huge, daunting commitment. The student loan is made up of two parts - £9250 tuition fees which goes straight to the university, and the living costs loan, which goes into your son or daughter’s bank account.
The living costs loan varies on where your young person will be studying, and also on your household income. It’s currently:
- £7,747 – Living at home
- £9,023 – Living away
- £12,010 – Living away in London
So the total student loan, for the tuition and living elements over three years would be approximately £54,000. It seems like a huge sum. But the key thing to remember is that it’s not really a loan. It’s more like a university tax. Your young person’s repayments are based on what they earn – not what they owe. It’s currently 9% of any earnings above £26,575 a year. So if your son or daughter earns £30,000 a year, they pay back just £25.69 per month. And the whole thing is wiped out after 30 years if they haven’t paid it off.
The amount your son or daughter gets will also depend on your household income. It seems unfair to me, but that’s the way it is. For a student living away from home but not in London, it starts at £9023, and drops to £5905 if your household income is more than £50000 a year. The average spend for a student’s living costs in 2019 was £7227. So there may be a shortfall. It’s down to you as a parent to help out, or your young person may be able to get a job. Either way, it’s worth planning for that now, so it doesn’t come as a surprise.
So what’s it like to apply for student finance? I found it relatively straight-forward. The application is done on line. Your young person will need to do their bit, then you’ll need to set up an account on the government student finance website. Once you log in, the process guides you through all the information needed. Be sure to have your financial info to hand – payslips, etc so you can fill in the information needed. It’s the payslips from two years ago that you’ll need. But if Covid has affected your income, you can ask for this year’s earnings to be used instead.
I found doing my part for the student loan application was OK. It worked well with no hiccups. A bigger headache is the finances for the accommodation. My son is in halls of residence for the first year, but he’s now looking for a house to share with his mates from university for year two. If you’re in this situation, a deposit may be needed, and you as a parent may be asked to be a guarantor. Make sure you read the contract thoroughly, and get some legal advice if you don’t understand it. Here’s one pitfall. Your young person’s contract for shared housing will probably have the words “Joint and severally responsible”. This means that each and every student is responsible for paying the rent – not just their share. So if one student can’t or won’t pay, your son or daughter is legally responsible for making up the difference. The landlord could ask all, or just one of the occupants to make up the difference. If you have signed as a guarantor, then you take on this responsibility. If one or more of the students don’t pay their rent, or causes any damage – you could be held responsible for the debt – even if your child has already paid their fair share. If there are five student sharing a house, the total annual rent liability could be over £30,000! So please read the contract carefully and be wary – do some googling before you commit. Many Student Unions offer a contract checking service too. So take your time before signing. Your young person may feel under pressure to sign up quickly and get their accommodation sorted – but make sure you and they know what you're committing to!
Michelle Jones - Preparation is key!
So your child has just submitted their UCAS application and your thoughts begin to drift to them living away from home next year. “It seems like only yesterday that I had to do everything for them” you say to yourself. You stop... It was only yesterday you were doing everything for them! They couldn’t find their English essay, they forgot to eat breakfast and looked like they hadn’t brushed their hair for days when they went off to college. Your anxiety begins to build as you wonder how they will survive at University without you there to pick up the pieces.
As a Mum of three young adults who have either graduated or are still at University I can testify that young people not only survive but they thrive when they move away from home for the first time. They are able to do this partly because we all learn from making mistakes, and they will make a few, but also because as parents and carers we can prepare them before they go. If you have literally done everything for your child up to this point now is the time to stop. It is for their own good and although letting them do things usually takes longer and isn’t going to be up to your standards, it will be worth it in the end for you all to have the peace of mind that that they can look after themselves.
Cooking- Your child may love and even be good at cooking if it is on their own terms, young people are particularly fond of baking cakes. However they probably need to get a few staple meals under their belt that are quick and cheap to make. Think standards such as pasta dishes, rice dishes, omelettes and things on toast. No student ever died from eating pizza morning noon and night but they would benefit from a slightly more nutritious diet (provide a vitamin supplement to be on the safe side). In my daughters first year she lived with a lad who ate fried onion sandwiches all the time, after a while she took pity on him and cooked him some homemade soup. Eventually the flat decided to have a flat meal once a week and took turns in cooking for each other. They had some interesting meals and some great conversations too. We found in our family a good way to get our young people cooking was to have a night of the week when the meal was their responsibility, they choose what we ate but had to cook it from scratch. My Son developed a love for herbs and spices which wasn’t to everyone’s taste but he learnt how to cook and that was the goal.
Budgeting- If you can afford to shop in more expensive supermarkets or buy top of the range food it is probably a good idea for you to take your child to one of the cheaper supermarkets to see what they have to offer too. Going with you on weekly shops can be a good way for them to understand what needs to be bought and how much it all costs. If your child has never had a part time job now would be a good time for them to get one, or if that isn’t possible then instead of giving them money as they need it you could introduce a monthly allowance. This will enable them to get used to budgeting for expenditure over the month and the need to plan their spending. Talking about your own monthly bills with them will help them to understand the cost of living. My husband helped our young people set up a basic spreadsheet so that they could track their expenditure, they were often shocked at how much money they spent on pointless things. Whilst they are still living at home with you they could still set themselves a budget each week or month for socialising or fuel for the car for example. This will help them to be more confident at managing their student finances when living independently.
Housekeeping- At least for the first year most of the general housekeeping is done by the University if your child is living in student accommodation. However our children’s experience was that the cleaning staff wouldn’t clean the kitchen for example if there was washing up left, and in any case if they move into a house in the second year they will need to clean. A good way of dealing with this is just to have an expectation at home that your child will do chores. If they don’t know how to clean the bathroom yet then show them but expect them to do it each week, maybe for a small financial reward. They should definitely be responsible for cleaning their own room, changing their own bed linen, getting their laundry at least to the wash basket and putting their clothes away. Learning how to use the washing machine is really quite straightforward so the next time they moan about an item of clothing not being clean when they want it seize that opportunity to get them to use the machine for themselves.
Benjamin Franklin once said “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail”. If we want to give our young people the best chance of succeeding at living independently at university then a little time and energy invested in preparing them will go a long way in relieving your anxieties and helping them settle in quickly.