High cost of train travel apparently influencing peoples choice of university

Discussion in 'UK Railway Discussion' started by yorksrob, 9 Jul 2019.

  1. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Spotted this article on the BBC:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-48711619

    which suggests that the high cost of train fares is the number one factor influencing where students choose to study.

    A couple if things strike me - students have, for the past few decades been the goose that's laid the golden egg for the railway, in terms of encouraging future business. Is this situation losing future railway business.

    Also, we all know there can be ways to split tickets and reduce fares (albeit these are by no means universal for the journeys one might want to make), but if the railways are perceived to be expensive, it's the perception that will influence potential passengers choices, rather than the reality. In this respect, whenever TOC's defend their outlandishly overpriced through fares by saying "hardly anyone ever buys them anyway", are these high prices acting as headline fares and dissuading people from travel.

    Another thing is that some students like to travel to open days with their parents, which obviously puts costs up (I tended to sod off on my own).

    I can't help but think that life might have turned out very differently, had I not felt enabled to travel across the country by rail to my potential and eventual Universities back in the mid 90's.
     
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  3. Bromley boy

    Bromley boy Established Member

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    Not sure how seriously to take this.

    Students going to university these days are likely to incur debts of up to £50k by the time they graduate. I’m surprised a few hundred pounds to attend open days is putting them off.

    Plus with a bit of lateral thinking it should be easy to travel much more cheaply than the figures described: going by National Express, travelling off peak, buying advanced tickets etc.
     
  4. Randomer

    Randomer Member

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    Personally I would hesitate to move to completely the opposite end of the country for a course if I hadn't lived away from home at all (I'd be interested if there were any statistics on drop out rate and distance away from home.)

    Although the debt situation is true it doesn't help somebody on college/sixth form doing there A levels who is looking at upwards of £500 to attend open days as they haven't received loans by that point.

    In some cases you are going to struggle to travel off peak and attend an open day the same day if doing Exeter to Hull for example.
     
  5. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    I can see the point - why is a few hundred pounds putting people off of travel, when students will have dreadful levels of debt anyway. I suppose the awful tuition fees are incurred wherever one goes, so are to an extent outside of people's control. Plus their repayment can be deferred anyway, so is perhaps less to the forefront of peoples minds.

    Perhaps getting from one side of the country to the other for a reasonable price by rail could be seen as a sort of mental agility entry test :lol:
     
  6. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    I went to the other side of the country (Kent to Lancaster) deliberately for a change of scene. Probably comes from growing up in a small town.

    In terms of off-peak, I seem to recall that I was able to get a reasonably priced ticket, so long as I began the InterCity leg from London after 9:00 or 9:30 (can't remember which). Coming from the depths of Kent, this wasn't difficult.
     
  7. sprinterguy

    sprinterguy Established Member

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    Student loans and tuition fees aren't repaid at the point of use, though. It's pretty much an invisible debt in my opinion, I don't even notice my student loan repayment going out of my monthly wage.

    You can't defer the cost of a train ticket for five years, or pay it off in installments, and if you choose to examine multiple universities then the travel costs add up within a relatively short time period, with no guarantee of being accepted by any of them.
     
  8. cuccir

    cuccir Established Member

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    I work at Newcastle University and attended a presentation given by UCAS (the university admissions body) in June. Using their own data on student application behaviour this is exactly what they said, and one of their recommendations to us if we want to boost applicants was to consider offering a certain number of return rail journeys to home for students.
     
  9. Mathew S

    Mathew S Established Member

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    And under the current system, many graduates will repay only a tiny fraction, if any at all, of their loan anyway. Other than for realtively high earners, it's almost free money. Doesn't help sixth formers looking at open days though.

    Common practice at US universities. I know the distances can be bigger, and it's generally air fares rather than train, but it certainly aids recruitment.
     
  10. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Book a YHA dorm bed for the open day (about £20) and go by coach. At that age you don't have money but you do have time.

    I do agree trains can be too expensive at times, but modern-day young people at that point in their lives have it quite easy compared to those many years ago. Fees are an issue, but at the point of choosing a university aren't particularly relevant as they all charge the same and you don't pay until much later anyway.
     
  11. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    This sounds a very sensible suggestion. Perhaps there is a market for an InterCity "Groupsave" type offer for those wanting to visit with their families. This would also help to counteract the economy of scale of several people travelling in the same car.
     
  12. Bromley boy

    Bromley boy Established Member

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    Fair point on the “up front” nature of the travel costs, but I think the point remains that people simply need to think outside the box!

    People simply need to look at the options available to them and choose according to their budget/preferences.

    Rail travel is one (relatively expensive, relatively comfortable) method of travel. Alternatives would be coach, overnight if necessary to save on accommodation costs. Accommodation in a B&B or YMCA is very reasonably priced in most university towns.

    The article in the OP does smack somewhat of entitlement. Students already benefit from discounts not available to other groups, young persons’ railcards etc. Low income workers frequently travel around the country to find work and attend interviews, with no discounts and no guarantee of getting the job or having their costs reimbursed.

    As for students taking their parents with them to open days, the mind boggles. Clearly things have changed in the 15 years since I was applying to uni!
     
  13. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    It's a question of industry self-interest. Does the railway really want to push the passengers of tomorrow towards coach travel ?
     
  14. Iskra

    Iskra Established Member

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    Maybe I was lucky, but my college put on coaches to the biggest university cities. Then I went to some with my parents. I drove to others with friends or got the train.

    It's just like any other journey, you look at the methods available and work out what's the best for you based on the cash you have available.

    I can safely say that train fares had zero impact on my Uni choice (Lancaster).

    I also think it is very strange to claim train fares for a one-off visit are a barrier, when you're (probably) moving there, so won't be needing to rely on the train to get there on a daily basis. It's an investment of time and money to make sure you are going to be happy for the next 3 years of your life.

    Of course, you don't have to go to Open Days anyway, and from my experience the value they provide is questionable- but it does give you a feel for the place.
     
    Last edited: 9 Jul 2019
  15. sprinterguy

    sprinterguy Established Member

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    Indeed; off topic, but the increase in tuition fees since I went to Uni does seem counter-productive, as surely it only results in a far smaller proportion of the total ever being paid off!
     
  16. Iskra

    Iskra Established Member

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    It's not free money now the interest rate has gone up significantly.

    And my payslip tells me that it is definitely not free either...
     
    Last edited: 9 Jul 2019
  17. Djgr

    Djgr Member

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    Whilst there is some truth in this, it probably pales into insignificance when comparing the relative cost of accommodation.

    A number of London universities struggle to recruit well and many do poorly when it comes to student satisfaction.
     
  18. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Indeed. It's neither cheaper for the taxpayer nor the student.

    It's the financial whizkids in the City who benefit.
     
  19. kristiang85

    kristiang85 Member

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    I loved my open days year. It was actually the first time I really travelled on my own by train, and also my first time to "The North", which is where I eventually settled on going to uni.

    Though I do remember my baptism of fire on the train network when I pitched up at Euston and asked for a return (at peak time!) to Liverpool, and was charged £105, and feeling suitably shocked. Then again, if I was making the request today it would be £325, so that seems a relative bargain now... (this was back in 2002 when I first went).
     
  20. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    That would be an expensive lesson to learn.

    I wonder whether such extreme walk-on fares frighten potential passengers away from the railway.
     
  21. Justapunter

    Justapunter Member

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    I suspect the article is a nonsense clickbait one. She's in Plymouth. And it's easy to book advances when you're a student. And XC and GWR go to a lot of the country..... and where does she think she's going all the time when she's at university ? Who wants to go home to your parents every two minutes. Even the boyfriend will last one term.... then Dear John, life goes on.... it's not you, it's definitely not that good looking bloke that keeps whatsapping me and liking my stuff on Instagram....
     
  22. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Well, that's the industry's choice - it can do that if it wants, and not if it doesn't, and it reaps as it sows.

    What it isn't is an excuse for whining from young people because they might have to put up with an overnight Megabus up to Scotland (or that long, slow LNR through from Liverpool to London for a pocket-money Advance), or kipping in a YHA dorm (or even a tent if visiting one of the more rural universities - basic campsites still tend to be less than a tenner a night), or whatever. You're young, you're resilient, you'll happily do that on a gap-year tour of Thailand - get on with it.

    There's also far more information online about universities than there was, so you can narrow down more before you plan visits. Not only are online prospectuses more detailed than they used to be, but there are countless forums, review sites and the likes about the uni and the place with all manner of opinions, forums, that kind of thing.

    I am against fees, but they are not in the slightest bit relevant at that stage because you don't pay them up front (they were actually in my view far worse when they were cheaper but did have to be paid up front because the direct effect was far greater - they are now more of a capped graduate tax than actual debt because it's impossible to default on it). They are only relevant to the "do I go to uni or not" decision which has likely happened long before the point of actually picking one.
     
  23. underbank

    underbank Member

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    The £50k student debts are repaid over decades, and often not at all. The train fares, overnight accommodation, etc need paying for in advance, so completely different.

    I can really relate to the article. We've just done 5 open days with our son. Cost/ease of transport has been a big factor, not only for attending the open day, but also for visits to/from home once he's there. Even with advance fares, the cost for 3 people is just crazy, and the journey planning has highlighted long journey times and numerous changes. Our nearest main line station is Lancaster - that's absolutely brilliant for direct journeys to Glasgow or London, but pretty awful for Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, York due to cost and journey time, made worse by engineering work on Saturdays. As a result, we've just driven - far cheaper and quicker in every case. It would basically be impossible to take the train there and back in a day and still have a decent amount of time for the open day - with a car, we've achieved it. It really brought it home to us what it must be like for those without a car. Also, brought it home to son how it will be for him when he is at Uni to traverse the country.

    Travelling off-peak is a false argument as that necessitates overnight accommodation which costs money, plus meals, etc., so your savings are soon spent in other ways. Advanced tickets were still prohibitivey expensive for the journeys he wanted to do.

    His school only allow 2 days off for visiting Unis, so he couldn't do week-day visits that required overnight accommodation - as just one visit would take up his two days. Luckily, we're in a position to be able to take him, so his choices havn't been limited by poor public transport.
     
  24. bastien

    bastien Member

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    That depends how much your parents are nagging and guilt-tripping you to come back this coming weekend...
     
  25. BigCj34

    BigCj34 Member

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    I have to say students are not living the life of Riley with the amount of maintenance loan they get, which often will not cover accommodation costs for the year. There is an unwritten expectation that parents need to contribute to their sons and daughters going to university, which varies by income. Going by what I received which was £3500 per year, even if accommodation costs were fully covered that would be £100 a week to live off. When factoring in transport to uni, clothes, textbooks and other materials, food, subscription fees, etc. it's not a lot to live off unless you live like a monk and hardly ever socialise.

    As for rail fares, going to university further away is probably going to be more expensive, so of course distance and price needs to be factored in. However I wouldn't say it's unreasonable for disadvantaged students to have support and be made aware of their options, it would be unfair for them to be denied their choice of university because they can't afford to get there while their middle-class peers can. Also mid-term visits can occur, students get homesickness, family emergencies, mental health breakdowns, etc.
     
  26. Belperpete

    Belperpete Member

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    I think that some are forgetting the situation that these kids are in. At the time when they need to make these visits they are still in school, they have not yet applied for their uni places, which means they have not yet sat their A level final exams. This is long before they get anywhere near a student loan, so are dependent on their parents for financial support. They will hopefully be studying hard for their upcoming exams, so won't have much free time. Those who have weekend jobs, so may have a bit of extra cash, will have even less free time.

    There was no way that I or my parents could afford such visits when I was young, other than to local universities (I was fortunate to live near several, being as I lived near London). My school ran a couple of minibus trips to some further away (I recall going to see Sussex Uni on one such trip to get a flavour of a green field uni), but nothing long distance. I certainly can't see many local authority schools having money in the budget for such trips these days.

    I also recall that the school encouraged students to travel together to take advantage of group fares - but it was up to the students to pay for and book the tickets themselves. However, this was not easy, as the group fare depended on the number travelling, so if someone pulled out, the cost for the others could increase substantially.

    Most of my applications were made "blind", without ever having been to the place, based on recommendations from teachers. But in those days, making the wrong choice was not too much of a problem. Local authorities were relatively easy-going about letting you change course or college, and paying an extra year's maintenance grant to allow you to start again, and I knew several students who did just that. Nowadays, making the wrong choice will have major financial implications for a student, so I can understand why children are reluctant to choose somewhere they know little or nothing about.

    It is notable that many of those quoted in the article were from the southwest, who may have to travel long distances and suffer some of the highest train fares. Those who live in London or the midlands will have a much wider choice of unis within a reasonable travelling distance and at far more reasonable cost.
     
  27. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Actually, I feel people have every right to be crest-fallen if they have to use road transport.

    The point about London Midland is a valid one, although not all prospective visits will have such effective route competition providing a low cost alternative.

    Whilst on line information is all well and good, I can see why people might want to visit the five on their UCAS application (I visited three myself).
     
  28. Mathew S

    Mathew S Established Member

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    It's so much dependent on what you earn. If you earn the average weekly wage in England of about £550 - £600 a week (~ £29,500 a year) you'll only ever repay a small fraction of your loan (under the current, post-2012 system). Those of use who went to uni before then, me included, pay more than that and for longer, though we have less to repay. Either way, the overwhelming majority - figures as high as 75% - 85% of graduates are frequently quoted - will never pay off the total they borrowed.

    Exactly this. There is no way at all I could have afforded to go to Open Days and pay for it myself. Even in 2001 when I was applying, train tickets to London, Scotland, etc. were completely beyond my means, and that's with a part-time job. We have a lot of students from a local university come to work with us in our office, and just from talking to them I am in awe of how they juggle pretty much full time jobs with their studies just in order to have enough money to pay rent, and put food on the table. How anyone whose parents can't (or won't) pay is supposed to afford travel to open days, interviews, etc. is completley beyond me.
     
  29. cactustwirly

    cactustwirly Established Member

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    Off Peak tickets are still expensive, and advances can be hard to come by, it costs me with a Railcard, £40 for a return trip to home from uni, those are advances that need to be booked at least a month before travel.

    Student loans are irrelevant, they don't work like normal loans, they only cover the costs of the Tuition fees, the maintenance loan hardly covered the rent for my accommodation, so me and my parents had to save up a lot to make up the shortfall, and train tickets are a huge cost to me, hence why I only travel back once a term.
     
  30. underbank

    underbank Member

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    Online can give a very false impression. Before we visited, my son had Leeds as one of his top choices. After we visited he decided he never wants to see the place again - he just hated it, the city, the campus, the accommodation, everything.
     
  31. sprinterguy

    sprinterguy Established Member

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    The article refers solely to the cost of travelling to and from Uni open days, nothing to do with term time costs, and appears detailed and well reasoned to me. And I don't know whether you've noticed, but Crosscountry advance fares are not renowned for being the cheapest, even with a 16 - 25 Railcard.

    As Belperpete notes, it's an issue that may be more prevalent for those living in locations relatively remote from the rest of the country such as Plymouth as described in the article, where it takes a comparatively large amount of travelling to reach most major UK cities.
     

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