Students still splashing out on tech despite pandemic palaver, Ucas report reveals

‘Brand and Spend’ is the first chapter of the Ucas Media’s Student Lifestyle report, which – in its 10th year – is the largest yet

Despite the uncertainty caused by the continuing coronavirus crisis, university students are still splashing their cash on pricey technology devices, the 2021 Student Lifestyle report from Ucas has revealed.

The first chapter in this year’s edition, Brand and Spend, is the most comprehensive yet, asking 12,000 students 100 questions to track what they are spending and where.

The Ucas data shows that, last year, the average student invested about £2,110 on preparations for their university studies, a £33 difference to the £2,077 spend by the 2019 intake. The average spent on fresher’s week – where the biggest portion of their weekly budget was reportedly put towards ‘books or study materials’ – amounted to £406,  a whopping £177 increase on the average spent in a ‘normal’ student week. Away from the fresher’s excitement, students tended to spend most of their cash on ‘groceries’.

But there’s no shying away from the fact that this year’s cohort has experienced far from ‘normal’ circumstances, dealing with the cancellation of exams and reassessed grades, while also simultaneously juggling pandemic anxieties – the majority of which took place before they had even set foot on campus. The enforcement of local and national lockdown measures meant students could no longer rely on part-time jobs to provide necessary financial support, meaning many experienced the pressure of living a cash-strapped student life incredibly early on in their higher education journey.

That said, expenditure coming from current first year students has surprisingly exceeded that of their predecessors, showing that, even amid the pandemic, 2020 freshers weren’t shy on shelling out, demonstrating the robust and adaptable nature of today’s university population.

Student tech investments

According to the findings, students were still keen to spend on costly purchases such as laptops – which stood as the most popular first year investment, with 45% buying one new in preparation for their study programme. The Apple Macbook was, again, the preferred student device.

Of the 29% of respondents who claimed to regret not having purchased something ahead of starting university, laptops topped the polls. And for those who already owned a laptop, ‘battery performance’ topped the list of reasons for choosing one brand or model over another.

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student spending
Black Friday was the most popular online sale destination for both male and female students. Image source: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

Respondents cited Black Friday as the most popular online sale destination for both male and female students across the UK, with more than half (59%) spending money here. Of those who intended to buy in upcoming sales, 43% said they would be looking to spend on clothes, 26% said books or study resources, 24% said shoes, 18% said stationary and 16% were looking to invest in a laptop.

When it came to gaming, Sony’s PS5 – released in November 2020 – was listed as the most popular choice of console among those looking to splurge.

Worryingly, only 34% of students have taken out an insurance policy to cover loss, theft or damage to their device.

Apple and Nike were the two most popular brands among the student cohort, regardless of gender, with both corporations managing to maintain their positions despite mounting reports of their unethical practices.

Rebecca Hopwood, head of sales at Ucas, welcomed the publication of this year’s survey, commenting: “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.

“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 freshers’ finances are anything to go by.”


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