This was a tremendous achievement on his part as the Department is rated second in the country for the subject and they describe the competition for the course as "fierce", deliberately keeping the number of students down in order to preserve a high staff to student ratio. As part of the application process he had to produce a research proposal and a piece of critical writing as his degree is in an unrelated subject (Law). He worked very hard on all this and we're extremely proud of him.
Since we now have a clear plan for our retirement and are pretty sure we have (more or less) enough to do what we want to be able to do, we have decided to gift £17,500 of our ISA savings to each of our sons as an "Opportunities Fund" to be used to allow them to do something they would otherwise not be able to do, hopefully to improve their lives permanently. This may (or may not) be directly tied to job prospects as personal satisfaction and development comes in many forms. :-) The eldest is using his to go back to University and the youngest is leaving his with us for the time being until he has a good use for it.
In addition to gifting the £17,500 we have also said that my eldest son can live rent free in our studio flat for the year. Our youngest son has already made use of the flat between his MA and PhD when he was doing some intern work and applying for funding. This is, in fact, why we bought the flat, as we only own a modest semi and having an adult son live at home can get a bit "cramped" if it goes on for any length of time. :-)
(btw I am painfully aware that my sons have both been given an educational advantage by having parents who have been able to afford to supplement student loans, internships, housing and life in general. I am ideologically opposed to the idea that education is ever something that should be allowed to exclude people for financial reasons and would never have sent them to private school, but parents these days seem increasing sucked into supporting their kids through further education if they can. As this becomes the norm surely the kids of those who cannot afford to help become actively disadvantaged? One for my conscience (and vote)).
Having now got the offer of a place we have been thinking in more depth about accommodation and my son has decided that he would rather live on campus if possible. Although our studio flat is only about 30 mins by road from the University he doesn't drive and there is only one bus an hour and none after 6.30 in the evening. He had been thinking about getting a bike as there is a cycle route for some of the way but travelling home late in winter on poorly lit roads was a bit of a worry. In addition it would be good for him to be in the thick of things and we wouldn't have to give our tenant notice (something I'm loath to do as she has been very good and is obviously happy where she is despite only signing up for 6 months initially).
However the student accommodation prices came as a bit of a shock. As a postgraduate needing a 51 week rental the full range of choice of halls was not available to him and he's basically confined to a cheaper option of £5,800 (shared bathroom) and £6,700 (en suite).
Comparing these costs to the income/costs associated with him living in our studio flat works out like this:
- After tax income from rental (estimated as it depends if any further repairs are required and\or the tenant gives notice): £3,700
- Estimated utilities (electricity, broadband, water) to pay if in flat - currently covered by tenant: £1,000
- Council Tax (currently covered by tenant): £1,200
So, taking into account the travelling costs associated with living in the flat and the fact that living on campus entitles you to 10% discount at food outlets and bars on site means that, although the university accommodation seems mighty expensive when compared to our studio flat, it would actually be more or less cost neutral for my son to live there.
This calculation was quite interesting from another point of view. If we are getting a profit of around £3,500 pa on our studio flat and it works out that it costs our son just about the same to live in what used to be called University "Halls", surely the University is raking in huge profits at these kind of prices. Their overheads must be proportionally much smaller given the scale of their service. They have a captive rental "audience" and can control their void periods (the rooms are let out for conferences and visitors during the vacations) and service the flats using their own maintenance staff.
It all seems a bit scandalous except for the fact that we have to recognise that this is yet another reflection of the ongoing trend towards the commercialisation of education. Government funding for universities has been reduced so they have to make money somewhere. What then happens is that cheap accommodation for the students without parents with the wherewithal to help becomes scarce and the poorer students are forced out into the private sector with all its attendant stresses and difficulties, things that young people leaving home for the first time do not always have the skills to manage.
Personally I'd rather pay a bit more tax, fund the universities properly so they can provide affordable accommodation and remove tuition fees for UK students, put kids back on their own two feet with a fair and adequate grant system and make sure that further education is only seen as attractive for the right reasons by the right people. Somehow, though, this all seems to be moving further and further out of reach.