Students face an above-inflation rise in living costs

In 2013-14 students in France face a cost of living increase one-and-a-half times that of inflation, and a 2% rise in expenditure at the start of the new university year, according to inquiries by the two biggest student organisations.

Meanwhile, under a new scheme the government is to act as a rental guarantor for students who have difficulties raising a deposit.

In its ninth annual survey on students’ living costs the majority students’ union UNEF, Union nationale des étudiants de France, calculates a rise of 1.6% for 2013-14 compared to the previous academic year – 1.5 times the inflation rate of 1.1%.

Accommodation remains by far the biggest expense, representing between 48% and 55% of student budgets; and related increases in expenditure such as electricity and home insurance are largely responsible for the rise in costs.

Other significant factors are compulsory charges, such as student enrolment fees, restaurant tickets and social security.

UNEF said students needed between €10,500 and €15,500 (US$14,000 and US$20,800) to fund a year of studies if they were living away from home, and it was becoming more and more difficult for them to rely on parental contributions because of the economic crisis.

More than half of students had taken paid employment, which was detrimental to their chances of academic success, and others gave up optional medical care.

While a quarter of students would be protected thanks to a reformed system of grants, the remaining three-quarters not in receipt of financial aid were badly exposed, said UNEF.

The FAGE survey

FAGE, the Fédération des associations générales étudiantes, found that students’ costs associated with the start of the academic year would rise by 2% to an average of €2,481.73 – and €2,787.08 for those in the high-rent region in and around Paris.

FAGE, which has carried out its inquiry into start-of-year costs since 2002, takes into account expenditure for the month of September.

It includes the usual daily expenses such as rent, meals, telephone and internet, transport, clothes and leisure activities, as well as costs specific to the beginning of the academic year such as university fees and health insurance, agency charges and educational books and equipment.

It sounds a note of alarm over health care, which is the cost that has risen most and, claims FAGE, is characterised by constantly increasing charges and constantly declining quality of service. As the basic compulsory charge is fixed, insurance companies have been raising the charges of supplementary health insurance, which now costs students on average €274.50.

The increases were “a hard new blow for students’ health which is already at risk”, and more and more students were choosing not to register for the extra cover, said FAGE, which is calling for an urgent reform of the student social security system.

New state rental guarantee

Meanwhile Geneviève Fioraso, the minister for higher education and research, last Tuesday announced the introduction of a new government rental guarantee to make finding accommodation in the private sector easier for students who had difficulty providing deposits.

The pilot, which will start in September, is based on a scheme that has operated successfully for five years in the Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrénées regions.

In its first year the guarantee will involve up to 2,000 disadvantaged students, with priority for those from one-parent families (landlords often demand two guarantors), those on their own and foreigners, who frequently have more difficulty raising a deposit.

It is planned to extend the scheme in 2014-15 to benefit between 140,000 and 200,000 students.

Last year Fioraso announced the government’s programme to expand provision of student housing. Giving details of the new guarantee plan, she said: “At the same time as efforts to speed up construction of housing, this scheme will allow students easier access to accommodation.

“It is a priority to improve students’ success and democratisation of access to higher education in a period of rapid change, when education is more than ever a guarantee of employment and of a contribution to the recovery of our country.”