Closed sixth forms, cancelled exams, reassessed grades, and many were furloughed from their part time jobs. Autumn 2020’s freshers had a tough run up to their first year at university, but despite the chaos of Covid, the spending power of students has remained resilient, according to the first part of the 2021 Student Lifestyle Report, published today by UCAS Media.
Posted Fri 26 February 2021 - 08:33

‘Brand and Spend’ is the first chapter of the UCAS Media’s Student Lifestyle Report which, in its tenth year, is the largest yet. We asked 12,000 students 100 questions to see what they are spending and where, and in welcome news to retailers, we learnt that the spending power of our first years exceeded that of their predecessors, showing the power of our 2020 freshers’ finances, despite the impacts of the pandemic.

Our data shows that an average student in 2020 spent £2,110 preparing to start their first year at university (compared to £2077 from the 2019 intake), with an average of £406 spent during fresher’s week, and then £229 in a ‘normal’ week.

During fresher’s week, students spent the highest proportion of their weekly budget on ‘books or study materials’, whereas in a ‘normal’ week, ‘groceries’ accounted for most of their weekly outlay.

This year’s intake has had exams cancelled, grades reassessed after their results day and this is all prior to their arrival on campus. Part-time jobs that students once relied upon for income to support themselves during their studies have evaporated due to the pandemic, leaving many in unstable and uninviting circumstances at a pivotal stage of their development.

Yet, the ability to match the spending of previous years shows just how robust and adaptable young people are. And their desire to splash out on big purchases such as laptops was one students continued to fulfil, in fact it was the most popular purchase for first years, with 45% buying a new one for the start of term.

The report found:

  • Once again, Apple’s Macbook was the most popular choice for those students; and of the 29% who admitted they regretted not having purchased something for University, laptops also topped the polls. Of those who had already purchased a laptop, ‘battery performance’ was cited as the primary reason for choosing one brand or model over another.
  • Black Friday was the most popular online sale destination for both male and female UK based students last year, with 59% having spent their money here. Of those who intended to purchase items in upcoming sales, 43% said they would be looking to spend on clothes, 26% said books or study resources, 24% said shoes, 18% said stationery and 16% were intending to purchase a laptop.
  • But regardless of whether their money ends up in the supermarket or on a streaming service, we know that the spending habits of our students have not been scuppered by the uncertainty of the last year, and that we should have every confidence that in 2021 students will continue to spend, spend, spend.

Also, in ‘Brand and Spend’:

  • UK students are socially and environmentally conscious consumers – 72% of Generation Z are happy to pay a higher price for sustainable goods or services, and 92% buy products that align with their values. And students are protesting with their pounds – of those who said they had not purchased an item due to a brand’s use of unethical practice, 60% mentioned animal testing, with 55% citing poor treatment of staff as a barrier.
  • The majority of those surveyed said that they were expecting sustainable brands to be the next big trend - despite fast fashion brands like Primark and ASOS ranking in the Top 10 most popular brands for both men and women this time around. However, bad news for Primark, their brand was cited as the brand most students broke up with over the last year with ‘poor working conditions’ and ‘treatment of employees’ being the reasons given. Other reasons that were cited for ‘breaking up’ with a brand included use of animal testing and unsustainable practices, products or packaging.         
  • Apple and Nike were the two most popular brands amongst both male and female students, managing to keep their sheen with the nation’s students, retaining their positions as the two top brands despite media reports of unethical practice within their companies.
  • Amongst other brands to stay strong were Tesco and Boots, with both featuring in our students top 20 brands. 56% of students chose Tesco as the place to buy their groceries and both Lidl and Aldi appeared in the top four supermarkets. And when it came to food shopping, a massive 83% still favour taking their trollies to the tills, over shopping online. 67% of first year students did a large grocery shop during fresher’s week, whereas 19% said they shopped little and often.

Rebecca Hopwood, Head of Sales at UCAS, welcomed the publication of the survey’s results: “I’m delighted to see this incredibly high level of consumer confidence from the new 2020 cohort, which would be encouraging at any time, let alone in the context of Covid and its continued impact on our economy and society. 

“Students are confidently finding their way as consumers, whether it be searching through the aisles or scrolling online. The spending power of this group remains resilient and robust despite the stresses of the results process and the significant reduction in the availability of part-time jobs, and then having to isolate in halls of residence.

“That students have managed to keep ploughing their pounds into the economy is a real boost and a sure sign that things can improve if our fresher’s finances are anything to go by.”

More to come from the Student Lifestyle Report over the course of March and April:

Chapter 2: Technology and Gaming (published 11 March)

  • 62% of students are using Microsoft Windows software to do their university work.
  • Sony’s PS5 was the most popular console mentioned by those looking to spend in this area.
  • Only 34% of students have insurance for their devices.

Chapter 3: Social Media (published 25 March)

  • 99% of first years use at least one social media site or app.
  • Zoom is now more popular than Twitter amongst this group.
  • If students were required to choose only one social media platform, Instagram wins.

Chapter 4: Entertainment (published 8 April)

  • 94% of first years subscribe to at least one streaming service.
  • The average first year spends 5.7 hours online per day.
  • Netflix remains the most popular entertainment subscription, for the fifth consecutive year.

Chapter 5: Food and Travel (published 22 April)

  • 80% of students order a takeaway at least once a month.
  • First year’s felt safest when travelling by car.
  • 54% of students said that the pandemic had made them want to travel more.


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Notes for editors

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