/ Money

Should parents be expected to help pay for uni?

Is it a fair assumption that a parent will fund their child to some extent during university? This wasn’t the case for me – here’s my experience.

It feels to me like there’s a societal assumption that people have a great relationship with their family.

For determining student loans, UK law also takes this stance. It bases the amount of money handed to students in student loan packages on the overall family income.

But should we assume parents are willing to pay? What if they choose not to?

Which? News: ‘Parents skipping holidays to fund uni costs’

I was one of those students whose parents didn’t help fund my education, and I’m still dealing with the consequences years later.

I took out a loan in my second year as the income from my additional jobs wasn’t enough to pay my rent. Five years after finishing university, I’ve only just about paid this off.

Financial assumptions

There are assumptions made in the current process when deciding who gets what amount of money.

As my family had an income that went above the threshold for extra support, it meant that I was given a low amount of money in terms of the loan by the government – the minimum amount on offer. 

The amount was certainly not enough to be able to pay for my accommodation, food, books, travel, socialising or any of the other costs associated with going to university.

Another of the assumptions made is that parents are willing to support their children. In our survey, parents of current undergraduate students said they’re putting their hand in their pockets to the tune of £360 per month, on average.

But what happens if your parents cannot or will not do that? For me, that additional financial support wasn’t an option.

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The financial pressure, plus the pressure of actually doing the degree while growing up and learning to be an adult makes it a hard time to live through emotionally.

Working multiple jobs

I got jobs to support myself during the degree. One store was very supportive, allowing me to move to other stores so I could work holidays or while away from uni.

This was extremely helpful as I was also allowed to make commission. I worked long hours, often skipping important seminars and lectures so I could make the money to be able to afford to continue studying

Somehow (while also maintaining a social life!) I finished with a 2:1.

I’m proud of that achievement, but I wish I had been given the opportunity to get a First. I think this would have been possible had there been less pressure.

What’s your uni experience been?

Balancing multiple jobs was a challenging but helpful way to learn social and communication skills you don’t get from a degree.

Perhaps the situation helped make me the person I am today.

A lot of people must go through similar situations in order to be able to study, but not everyone can handle the additional pressure of working to support themselves.

Is the current system a fair way to judge the amount of support a student will need? 

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on whether you think the system is fair and is working as well as it could be. Has it worked for you? Have you been in a similar situation?

What do you think could be done to improve things? Let me know in the comments.


In an ideal world I believe all tuition up to first degree and similar education, including vocational and craft courses, should be free. If the state does not have the money then it won’t happen. One option is to delay entry and work full time for a couple of years to build up the savings needed to help you through. Those with a local university, college or other educational establishment can, hopefully, live at home and reduce costs that way. The Open University is another option.

Taylor says:
23 August 2019

I completely agree with this! I know so many people (including myself) who were only able to get the minimum amount of student loan because the household earnings were over the threshold, but household earnings do not take into account the outgoings of the household such as mortgages, bills, the costs of running cars and everything else, so I definitely think it needs to be looked at. There’s already so much pressure on students, this could (and should) be one less thing to worry about.

What is the government’s rationale for expecting parents to fund their children above the age of 18? Although it’s reasonable to expect parents to fund their children until the end of the academic year in which their 18th birthday falls, why should parents have any statutory responsibility to fund adults? All adults should be treated as independent with equal opportunities for access to government funding, irrespective of whether or not their parents are capable or willing to contribute. Adults who are 25 or older don’t suffer a dependency on their parents’ income, whereas adults under 25 do. Given the lack of objective justification for the difference in treatment depending on age, this is age discrimination in breach of the Equality Act 2010. A victim of this policy should challenge it in the courts.

I am strongly opposed to the current system where tuition and living costs mean that the majority of students have to take out loans and live in debt. It is not the same as having an expensive overdraft or loan but it is still a burden. The government cannot afford to fund tuition fees for everyone that goes to university. At present, many of those who take up university places lack the motivation and ability to make best use of higher education, and perhaps we should fund only those who have the greatest potential. I believe that turning polytechnics into universities was a poor move. The polytechnics offered a different and more applied education, more appropriate for many young people.

It is risky to expect parents to contribute to the cost of their children going to university. It is one reason why students are doing paid work when they should be studying. Doing paid work can be of huge benefit to improve confidence, time management and interpersonal skills but where students are skipping lectures to do paid work, something is very wrong. Some students are exploited and as a lecturer I remember one student pleading with me to ring an employer whose requirements would have prevented the student from attending my lectures. I did not do that, but gave the student the confidence to deal with the problem.

Since school leavers don’t usually have much in the way of savings, doing paid work before going to university to set off with a reasonable credit balance seems a sensible approach and also gives some time during which a prospective student the chance to think about career plans and speak to those who have already gone to university. The problem is that some find it very difficult to get back into learning mode once you have stopped.

Thankfully there are plenty of options, as Malcolm has said, and if your parents are happy to invest then it’s an opportunity not to be missed, and hopefully the parents will benefit in some other way in years to come.

If there was only a way that we could live our lives without them being ruled by money.

Education is an investment in your future. Hopefully students will weigh up the costs of university, college, apprenticeships against the potential rewards from being more attractive to the jobs market. It is not just the cost of the 3 year (say) course, but the minimum 3 year loss of earnings that it also entails. However, I would like encouragement for those who take courses likely to be of direct benefit to the economy. There are other courses that are more of benefit to the student and, perhaps controversially, i’d ask when money is short whether these should be equally funded.

In an ideal world, where priorities like health and social care, law and order, state pensions for example, are significantly funded then i’d like further education provided free (although I’m not so sure about the cost of accommodation). I say “significantly” because I think a financial contribution from the student will (may) give them a stake in their choice of education and a commitment to make the most of the opportunity.

I do believe we have a real problem in providing sufficient numbers of quality staff, as well as quality students, to continue with the present wish for university to be almost an automatic right. The original system of vocational colleges, polytechnics, craft education, seemed to suit the spread of abilities far better, We should somehow abolish the feeling the only a degree (of whatever standard, course, and however well taught or received) is an acceptable qualification.

I was appalled to read this:“Last year, 35 per cent was required for a pass in Maths with Edexcel, while this year the pass mark has dropped to 17 per cent. Similarly, last year students taking a Maths GCSE with OCR needed 30.5 per cent to get a pass, compared to 15.3 per cent this year.24 Aug 2017“. I believe this year it was a little over 20%. How on earth can answering only around one in five questions correctly constitute a pass (and therefore not a resit – with the accompanying extra learning that is clearly needed)?

I chose to use my degree but many graduates land up in completely unrelated jobs that are rewarding, useful to society and contribute to the economy.

If your ambitions are to have a big family, a big house, a big car and expensive holidays then it’s probably worth weighing up the loss of earnings but it’s not everyone’s priority. Increasingly a degree, masters or PhD is a requirement for jobs, even where vocational qualifications and experience might be more useful. This is nothing new and I remember it in the late 70s.

Part of the problem in higher education is that helping weaker students gain a degree means that the more motivated and able students are not pushed to realise their potential. Where there is real competition for places it is less of a problem.

I don’t know enough about school/college teaching to make any useful comment on your final paragraph.

We can only fund higher education properly within the overall education budget, as well as meet the increasing need for more investment in primary, secondary and special education, by rationalising post-18 education and limiting university access by reference (a) to academic merit, aptitude and motivation, and (b) to the nation’s priority needs in terms both of disciplines and numbers.

It is clear that there are far too many places and that universities are struggling – expensively competing against each other – to fill them. Students are being led to believe that because there are courses and places there will be careers ahead to match them.

I don’t think any university student should be in debt in order to fund their education. When they enter the world of work three of four years after other employees of the same age they should not be disadvantaged relative to their colleagues by having an unpaid loan hanging like a millstone round their neck. In due time they will achieve higher salaries and repay the Exchequer through their taxes.

I agree with NFH that parents should not be required to contribute towards their adult children’s higher education; those that can will do so anyway in various ways but satisfactory provision should be made so that all undergraduates start on an equal basis.

The anomaly over post-18 parental contributions is a hangover from the days when children did not reach adulthood until their 21st birthday and university students received government grants with parental contributions required only from those with substantial means. The government of the day did not have the resolve to bring the system into line with the reduction in the age of majority which was lowered to 18 in 1970. Since that time parents have also had to maintain their sons and daughters at secondary school through three raisings of the school leaving age [in 1972 to 16, 2013 to17 and 2015 to 18]. [In the earlier days many pupils who stayed on at school in order to gain a university place became a source of pride but also resentment as not making an economic contribution to the family budget.]