University Allowance: How Much is Just Right?

There are very few guides as to how much you should give your child each month as they head off to university for the first time, the perfect opportunity then for to step into the breach...
University Allowance: How Much is Just Right?
By David Westley
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What allowance is reasonable? It’s a dilemma for all parents sending their children to universities – and maybe more so from expatriate communities where your son or daughter will be far from sight, and home. Story by Gillian Pearce.

Note: This article has been written for parents sending their children to university in the UK. If your child studies elsewhere, please send your findings / allowance information to [email protected]

There are many topics available online to guide the new student in what they need, how to be socially integrated, to benefit from university sport and activities, and so on. There is little however on the correct amount to cover their costs whilst living away from home – often for the first time.

For those students heading off to the UK, advice offered is in the ranges of £250-£600 UK pounds (1200 - 2,800 AED), with obvious regional variances for those choosing capital cities. In the course of our research we also discovered outliers, above and below the main cluster of responses.

Our sample poll suggest that the typical parents, based in the UAE, pay £475 per month. This increases for second year students to £583 in the small sample we included. This excludes rent and university fees.

Some parents also told us they also pay for - on top of the allowance - annual gym membership, railcard infrequent rail travel, and their child's phone bill. One parental couple was involved in a rather heated discussion as to whether they should be sending round a cleaner a couple of times a month.

For most expatriate students, whether “home” status has been secured, or not, there isn’t the opportunity for student loans and therefore it’s frequently the “Bank of Mum and Dad” who finance everything.

Parents are also aware that, at least initially, budgets may not always be spent wisely, although some universities can help with the enforcement of a level of fiscal discipline. Bath University, for example, operates an “Eat and Drink” card system which allows parents to contribute a set amount in the secure knowledge that it can only be exchanged for canteen food within the University campus.

It’s a balance for most families between instilling good financial management, and not supporting an extravagant lifestyle. One family, accountants by background, sat down and after going through all costs, settled on £517 per month.

The parent explained:

“I want my child to understand money management. It’s not about unreasonable levels of hardship or enforced budgeting. If he is spending too much on food and wasting it, that’s as bad as not spending enough on food and going hungry. It is striking the right balance and them learning to manage the money they receive in an efficient way.”

She added that another of her children moved the bulk of her monthly allowance from her main bank account, to a savings account. The benefits were that if the card was stolen there was never much money in the main account as additional funds were in the savings account and could be accessed in instalments as required.

Circumstances will of course differ, one parent shared the fact that her competition athlete had an allowance for the month, but extra when they were competing as nutritional requirements were a consideration. For those children with relatives close by, and the opportunity to stock up on home made meals at the weekends, their food allowance may, or may not, be tailored to reflect this.

For those who have a driving licence, is it reasonable for them to expect to run a car, with the associated costs whilst at University, or use student discounts for public transport and, very much in quotes, ‘rough it’.

There is always the option for students to consider part-time work to supplement their incomes, and much depends on the demands of their chosen course. Whilst many consider this a valuable life skill, other parents feel it may detract from the commitment to studies.

"We wanted our daughter to get the best degree she could. Law is an incredibly competitive subject, and if you want the best internships, you have to do well through your course, and make your face known at social events at firms - especially in London.

We have all paid a lot of money to get our kids into university, and these three years are critical for their entrance to work. I would prefer my child to either be studying and getting the best degree she can, or doing relevant internships, than getting life skills working in the cafe or behind the bar."

Ultimately, parents should understand there is actually no right answer to the question of how much is too much too little for university. It is what makes sense to you, and what you can afford. Clearly no one wants their child to go hungry, but beyond that how much you help is very much a family decision. Do keep talking to your child to understand how they are managing. There is also no harm in changing their allowance - in either direction – based on those conversations...

“We started off with an allowance of £210, which proved woefully inadequate. We’ve now upped that to £485, but we have said to our daughter we will keep monitoring it and assess again when she comes home for the holidays. These will, hopefully, be some of the best years of her life. We don’t want her to go mad, but neither should money be an obstacle to our daughter to be able to embrace the opportunities she gets, and really make the most of the next three years of her life.”


The raw data

Student Year Allowance (GBP) Location of parents Location of student Notes
Student 1 1 100 UAE Durham Catered, all food, etc provided
Student 2 1 425 UK York  
Student 3 1 450 UK Loughborough Swimmer. Extra for supplements during competition training
Student 4 1 600 UAE Bath  
Student 5 1 500 UAE Exeter  
Student 6 1 500 UAE Exeter  
Student 7 1 500 UAE Exeter  
Student 8 1 500 UAE Exeter  
Student 9 1 250 UAE Exeter  
Student 10 1 480   London          Paid 250 initially, raised fairly quickly.
Student 11 1 510   London           
Student 12 1 300 UAE Bournemouth  
Student 13 1 480 UAE    
Student 14 1 500 UAE Bath  400 + 100 Eat and Drink Card
Student 15 1 800 UAE London           
Student 16 2 550 UAE Bath  
Student 17 2 600 UAE Manchester  
Student 18 2 600 UAE Dublin  
Student 19 2 1100 UAE London           
Student 20 2 600 UAE Bournemouth   

This article has been written for parents sending their children to university in the UK. If your child studies elsewhere, please send your findings / allowance information to [email protected]

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