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New census data: living away from home the reality for most students

September 24, 2014

It is sometimes argued, by the Scottish government and student leaders, that tuition fee debt is “bad” but living cost debt is “good”, on the basis that living cost debt is essentially voluntary and can be avoided if students keep those costs down by living at home.  This argument is indeed central to the refusal to take seriously the unequal sharing of living cost debt among Scottish students.

2011 Census data published today by the Registrar General for Scotland usefully provides some figures on students’ actual living arrangements.

“Students” here includes all those in full-time education, whether at school, in FE or in higher education.  It also includes all students living here, so covers those coming to Scotland to study as well as those who live in Scotland all the time.

The total number of school pupils,  plus the number of younger FE course attenders, who are much more likely to be living at home,  will be significantly higher than the number of non-Scots coming here to study, who by contrast are very unlikely to be living with their parents. So removing non-Scots and those not in HE will pull down the figure for those living at home.

The average for all students of 52% at home can therefore be confidently predicted to conceal a sub-figure for Scottish students in full-time higher education comfortably below 50%.  Most full-time Scottish undergraduate students in higher education live away from home.  Any discussion about student funding in Scotland should start from that point.

Indeed, that only 32% lived at home their parents between the ages of 20 to 24 is already strongly suggestive of a strong association between studying for a degree (as opposed to the shorter HNs  offered by FE colleges) and living away from home.  This matters, because degree students are the ones studying for longest and therefore accumulating debt over several years.

The next question would of course be how many who live away from home do so entirely as a matter of choice.  Unsurprisingly, older students, who face the highest living cost debt in Scotland, are 90% likely not to be living with their parents.  The funding arrangements for this group in particular  looks increasingly indefensible. For younger students, more interesting data comes from other parts of the census, not least when figures are broken down by area: but that’s for another post.

The summary provided by the Registrar General states:

Economic Activity of full-time students by student accommodation by age

  • In 2011, 52 per cent of the 361,000 full-time students in Scotland aged 16 and over lived with their parents, 17 per cent lived in all-student households, 6 per cent lived alone, 15 per cent lived in other types of households (eg living with a partner, spouse or children) and 10 per cent lived in communal establishments such as university halls of residence.

  • The proportion of full-time students who lived with their parents varied considerably with age: it was 81 per cent for those aged 16 to 19, 32 per cent for those aged 20 to 24 and 10 per cent for those aged 25 and over.

  • All-student households was the most common type of accommodation for full-time students aged 20 to 24 (38 per cent), while for those aged 25 and over it was living in ‘other’ types of households (53 per cent).

  • Almost one third (32 per cent) of full-time students aged 16 and over were in employment, 9 per cent were economically active but unemployed and 59 per cent were economically inactive.

One last, unexpected finding is that so many of this group were economically inactive (on the census date, presumably), given the widespread assumption that it is common for students to have a job during term time. Even assuming economic activity levels are lower for those still at school and those coming to Scotland to study, still leaves term time working as something which can be avoided by at least a large minority of those in higher education. Whether these are mostly the same students who are also managing to avoid taking out much or any debt we cannot tell.  But it seems at the very least plausible.

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