Students & Graduates

Student Living Index 2023

Fancy some insider knowledge on student life?

The benefits of research

Heading to university is a major life moment. Yet it’s natural to feel a few nerves as you gear up to meet new people and budget for different costs. With the economic picture still so uncertain, you’ll want to start student life with your eyes wide open.

The 2023 Student Living Index from Royal Bank of Scotland provides detailed insights into the UK’s higher education scene. Whether you’re navigating the cost of living squeeze, researching student loans or keen to learn more about socialising and mental health trends, our study can prepare you for the ups and downs of student life.

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Working out your costs

For a full decade, our unique survey has aimed to show exactly what university life is like. You might be a current student, reviewing the affordability of your town or city. Or you may be a parent or school leaver trying to get under the surface of the subject.

For our 2023 survey, we asked 3,052 students in 63 university towns and cities to reveal their spending on essentials, plus their current approach to budgeting. We also wanted to see how they’re striking a balance between going out, part-time work and their coursework. Our study focuses on the cost of living squeeze too, following months of high inflation.

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Student living at a glance

of students set a monthly budget

spent on takeaways per month

is an average monthly spend for students at the supermarket

of Students buy second hand to live more sustainably

Which UK city is most affordable* for students?

Bournemouth is the most cost-effective university location in 2023, achieving the lowest student living index overall. Cardiff is second, after taking the crown in 22.
*Affordability is calculated by dividing students’ average monthly accommodation, activities and item costs by their average monthly income.

How are students spending and budgeting in 2023?

How and where are students adapting to high inflation and cost pressures? And what challenges and opportunities await the class of 2023? Get the full lowdown on student income sources, spending and budgeting with our survey. We also look at fraud awareness, part-time work, socialising and much more.


More than half (54%) of our respondents’ monthly income is now accounted for by student loans. This is up from 49% in 2022, with students appearing more reliant on this income source. Bournemouth respondents are the most likely to report using a student loan as their top income source. Nearly three quarters (73%) flagged this. Fewer than one in five students say they use their own income when covering monthly rental costs.


Supermarket spending is now the second biggest monthly expense for students, after their rental payments. Their spending on groceries is up by 44% compared to 2022. This is even higher in Edinburgh, where grocery spending has soared 286%, year on year. Amid a cost of living squeeze, many students are cutting their spending. Average total monthly spending has fallen by 9% since last year. Spending on alcohol has also lost some of its appeal, both on nights out and in the home. Alcohol spending has slumped by nearly a third (29%) on 2022 levels. This could be because students are favouring cut-price deals or avoiding alcoholic drinks completely.


Budgeting is a bigger focus for 2023’s crop of students, as inflation continues to hit the headlines. More students are making serious efforts to budget effectively. Yet the UK’s university goers feel less confident overall when managing their money. The number of students running short of cash before the end of the semester has climbed since our 2022 survey. It was one in three last year. This time around, it’s almost half (47%). Saving is another area with big regional variations. For example, Cambridge students are saving 148% more than the monthly average. What’s more, they’re able to save five times as much as Nottingham respondents.

Fraud & scams

Many students are taking encouraging strides forward when it comes to fraud awareness. Roughly two thirds (67%) say they haven’t encountered a scam in the current academic year. This suggests bank awareness campaigns may be having a positive impact. Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Leicester students have seen the fewest scam attempts in 2023. Those in Edinburgh are the second most targeted, behind only Bournemouth students.

Socialising and studying

Students have shifted away from socialising and more towards studying this year, as their financial priorities change. In general, they’re spending less time socialising and on hobbies. Whereas time spent on formal studying has leaped and commands most of their attention. The past 12 months have also seen an 11-hour increase in the amount of time spent on campus. In contrast, there’s been a significant drop in spending across all activity categories.

Part-time employment

Nationally, students have cut the amount of time spent in part-time employment. This may come as a surprise, given the tough economic climate. In fact, the average student is now working 10 fewer hours than last year. Part-time work has fallen across almost every town and city. Students in Bristol, Coventry and Oxford currently spend more of their time working in part-time roles. Elsewhere, people based in Scotland and Wales are the most likely to rely on their term-time employment income.

Cost of living squeeze in more detail

Cost of living squeeze and students

Nine in 10 students have made lifestyle changes to stick to their monthly budgets. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the high inflation that’s gripped the UK this year. The most thrifty students are based in Glasgow, Bournemouth and Cardiff. Students are most commonly trimming their online shopping to stay on course. More than 40% of students say they’ve given some thought to exiting their course early. But most respondents haven’t considered this, despite recent financial challenges and cost pressures.

Mental health, wellbeing and sustainability

When it comes to the financial support universities provide, over one in five students feel very dissatisfied. Stress has also been an issue for more than a third (35%) of respondents, notably in high-profile cities such as Oxford and Cambridge. Students living in Bristol, Coventry, Oxford and Cambridge voice the greatest enjoyment of their degrees. General enjoyment levels appear solid across many cities, despite the broader economic and financial pressures that students face. In terms of sustainability, it seems some students may be having to prioritise budgeting and cost pressures instead. More than a tenth (13%) say they are not making any sustainability efforts. This is an increase of 30% when compared to the 2022 results.

Read our 2023 Student Living Index in full

Are you keen to see how your university town compares to other places? Or do you want to know more about different locations before applying for a place? Check out our full 2023 Student Living Index to discover which students spend the most money on rent, who splashes the most cash on going out, and plenty more.

How could we help you to manage your finances?

Managing a student budget could prove tricky at the best of times. And it may be even more vital in an uncertain financial climate. Visit our student support hub to explore how we could help. It showcases our range of guides and tools, along with useful products designed firmly with students in mind.



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