Oxford the second-most expensive university for freshers?

In a recently published study of twenty major British universities by HSBC Oxford came out as second most expensive. According to the data Oxford has a weekly cost of £273, narrowly behind UCL and Imperial’s first-place £283 but far ahead of Cambridge’s £220.

Multiplying by 52 to transform this into annual terms, it would seem to suggest an annual cost of living of over £14,000. The University currently estimates that the cost of living for a student in 2014/5 will be between £8,000 and £12,000. From personal experience even this may be too high. The problem is with how the HSBC figures were calculated.

Take the ‘travel pass’. Probably influenced by London universities, where students often have to live away from central London and thus commute daily, HSBC added the cost of a ‘weekly travel pass’ to its calculations. For Oxford this is £16 a week. However, this cost is largely irrelevant for most; the majority of Oxford students are able to walk or cycle to any place in the city. Even St Hugh’s isn’t more than a 30 minute walk away.

Also included is the cost of ‘study essentials.’ Again, this may be redundant when it comes to Oxford. As a historian I have a weekly reading list of about a dozen books yet I have never had to buy a single one of them; the Bodleian Library holds eleven million of them. Even if I did, my college, like most others, provides a generous grant for purchasing academic material.

Most importantly however is the fact that this data was calculated as a weekly cost, not an annual one. Oxford terms are significantly shorter than elsewhere, and even with an extra week for Prelims (exams taken at the end of the first year) students won’t generally spend more than 30 weeks a year in the city. For instance unlike private accommodation in many other universities, in Oxford you only pay rent during term time.

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If we reduce the weekly cost to £250 (minus 16 for the travel pass and another 7 for study essentials), then multiply it by 30 weeks we get £7,500 a year. This seems to be significantly closer to the truth than the other calculations.

I spent around £7,000 this year while studying at Oxford, which includes unexpected trips to both Albania and Poland. If I hadn’t paid for that, and also had either the skill or the motivation to cook for myself, I could easily have done it for less than £6,000.

Neither can we forget grants. While many grants are available to all EU students regardless of the university, some are funded directly by Oxford. For instance the ‘Oxford bursary’ pays up to £4,000 in the first year.

So my advice to all potential freshers thinking of applying to Oxford is simple: don’t panic about the cost. Combining adequate budgeting with grants will get you through. Concentrate instead on choosing a degree you’ll enjoy.