For the majority of freshers, the beginning of university is also the start of a new life of freedom and independence. However, a recent study has shown that a third of students this autumn are expected to stay at home. This is largely due to financial concerns as 31% of students surveyed said that they could not manage financially if they chose to live at university. With tuition fees now being increased to £3000 per academic year, this figure is set to increase further.
It is true that many students find it difficult to comprehend the decision to stay at home, but it is important to remain open-minded about those who choose this option and the circumstances informing their decision. Besides the financial issue, there may also be concerns for emotional and personal wellbeing. Most students are 18 or 19 when they move to university and for nearly all it will be their first experience living away from their parents. Whilst the majority take it in their stride, there are still some who are overwhelmed by the thought and are not quite ready to abandon the comfort, support and stability of their family home. In some cases, students who live at home consider it to be advantageous to their social lives, since they are able to keep their social network at home and establish a second one through university. Catherine, a Sociology student at Nottingham who has always commuted from Loughborough, told Impact, “I never really wanted to move away because I had such a close circle of friends at home and a serious boyfriend. It just felt like too much of a risk for me but I have never regretted my decision. Actually, I feel I have the best of both worlds; I socialize with my friends at home on a daily basis but I have met some good friends at uni and since I have my own car, I can come and go on campus as I please. I still have some good nights out in Nottingham with my uni pals.”
However, there is the general belief, one which is largely supported by the university profession, that moving away from home is the better option because university life is a preparation for adult life – you take on the responsibilities of dealing with bills, managing weekly living expenses (how much to spend on beer and takeaways!), learning to use the cooker, the washing machine and all other domestic appliances. Whilst it is true that living independently is an invaluable lesson for life, it is wrong to think that students living at home are cocooned and dependent individuals who shy away from responsibility. On the contrary, many students living at home whilst studying have regular part-time work. In a poll of 2,200 students by Sodexho (catering firm) last year, students living at home were five times more likely to have part-time employment during term-time. Catherine tells us, “living at home meant that I could keep my part-time job so I can contribute something towards my uni fees and don’t have to rely on my parents for my social expenses.” So far from these students being sheltered from adult responsibilities most of those making the decision to stay at home are actually taking responsibility for their financial future.
It is also important not to lose sight of the academic responsibilities that must be a priority for all students. Of course, hard study should be balanced by relaxation and student “fun”, but too much of this will jeopardize academic success. Personally, I would have found it incredibly difficult to work and study whilst living around my friends in halls. Many worry that the level of distraction in this environment will compromise their success and unfortunately for some, this will be the case. I find I work better in my own private space at home where I can be guaranteed no distractions and of course, it helps to be surrounded by home comforts…wholesome food, clean and tidy rooms and central heating in winter. It sounds a little on the pompous side to say that a draughty terrace house, with greasy worktops and dirty washing flung across the floors is not a place I’d like to live but I’m afraid that more than a few student abodes live up to this cliché.
For all students, university is a life-changing experience and whether you live there or not, it is up to you to choose how much you get out of your time there.