10 Cheapest Cities in the UK for PhD Students

The UK is home to some top-class universities, and studying here has not only helped individuals acquire high-quality education but has also allowed them to become independent by adapting themselves to a completely new environment. The UK as you already know is not one of the cheapest countries to study PhD and as such we try to bring to your notice the cheapest cities in the UK for PhD students. This will enable you to save costs as you study in the UK.

With students coming from different countries, aspiring to complete their research (PhD) in the UK, it becomes very important to consider the cost of living. International students may have to fund their tuition fees which requires them to take on Menial jobs in the UK. While you are doing your part-time job, a helpful solution can be to opt for cities in the UK that provide a good standard of living at a low cost.

So on this note, we have compiled a list of the cheapest cities in the UK to live in and study as a PhD student.

Cost of Living Comparison

The cost of living varies from city to city and can differ significantly from person to person. The Royal Bank of Scotland has recently published a student living index for 2023. The report measures the average income of a student, compares it to the cost of living in each city, and provides a final figure that represents the average termly disposable income a student has in each city.

It states that the national average student income is £13,563 and the average student expenditure is £11,054. It ranks Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and Coventry as the regions with the highest cost of living, with Edinburgh coming out on top for the second year in a row with an average student income per year of £14,262 compared to an average student expenditure of £13,183. This leaves a student with £79 over the year for special treats. London has taken the top place for monthly rent costs, seeing an average monthly increase of £335 since 2022.

Bournemouth and Cardiff top the table for student income, with Edinburgh and Glasgow having the lowest term time incomes. Students in Cardiff have the highest term-time income from part-time work, with an average of £219.54 per month, despite spending less time in work than the top four universities.

Related: Opening a UK Bank Account: A PhD Student Guide

Cheapest Cities in the UK for PhD StudentsTop 10 Cheapest Cities in the UK for PhD Students

Living in the UK as we mentioned earlier can be expensive to international students, especially those on self-funding. International students in the UK cannot afford to miss out on this least of the cheapest cities in the UK for PhD studies.

The cheapest cities in the UK for PhD students include Sheffield, Cardiff, and Leeds. Check out more reasons for their top 10 positions.

  1. Cardiff

Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is the tenth-largest city in the UK. It is also extremely affordable and has been named one of the cheapest cities in the UK according to data collected from a range of student expenses including food, travel, and entertainment on the Natwest Student Living Index.

According to recent research, Cardiff is the most affordable city, 16 percent cheaper than the national average for students in the UK, making it an ideal place to study for your PhD. Cardiff housing is very cheap compared to other cities in the UK; the average rent is £410pcm, with that figure dropping to around £350pcm in the second year, with many letting agencies offering double rooms for the price of singles. The city is also renowned for being a major tourist destination in the UK and it attracts around 18 million visitors annually.

  1. Aberdeen

The cost of living in Aberdeen is 18% lower than in London and the average house rent is £500 per month. Aberdeen is probably the last city you would expect to be cheap, never mind one of the top 10 cheapest cities for PhD students in the UK.

Aberdeen has a lot to offer to students on a budget, aside from cheap living costs, the city boasts a strength in academic research, with the 5th oldest university in the UK, the University of Aberdeen, making it the ideal place to complete a PhD. The impressive architecture of the city is often dwarfed by the granite skyline, giving Aberdeen a rather grey demeanor and it is otherwise known as the “Granite City”.

See Also: UK PhD Loan: Everything You Need To About Student Loan as a PhD Student

  1. Durham

Durham is one of the lesser-known cities for those who are not from the UK, but its value for money for those studying for a PhD makes it a great location. It is a small, picturesque city in the North East of England. The majority of the population is made up of students, therefore the price of living here reflects this. The rent per calendar month excludes bills, so this would have to be taken into consideration. The average monthly rent ranges from £350 to £600.

  1. Canterbury

Canterbury is one of the most cost-effective cities for international students and it is a truly stunning city to reside in. The cathedral city is found in the heart of Kent and is synonymous with its medieval history. The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and that brings multiple benefits. From an academic perspective, there are three universities in and around Canterbury. The University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University, and the University for the Creative Arts all contribute to the city’s vibrant student community.

For PhD students, the attractions of Canterbury are not merely limited to the academic opportunities, the quality of life here is both comfortable and affordable. Canterbury also offers good transport links to the continent, with Eurostar services close by and ferry services offered from Dover. This glimpse of the city may be enough to tempt you into choosing to take your PhD at one of Canterbury’s universities, and part of the attraction to the idea should be its cost-effectiveness.

  1. Swansea

Swansea is the 5th cheapest city in the UK on our list of most affordable student cities in the UK. It is a vibrant and lively city that is situated right on the seafront. The city centre is separated from the sea by just a few hundred meters, but within this small area, you’ll find vibrant nightlife and a changing cultural scene.

International students are charged almost the same amount in tuition as home-based students. The beautiful coastal city of Swansea is known for its castle ruins, 5 miles of stunning shoreline, beautiful parks, and an art center. Swansea is rated as the most affordable city in the UK for students. The cost of living currently is around £870. Monthly rent in Swansea is £566, while a three-course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant is around £40.

  1. Manchester

Manchester is an established hub for students in the UK, but what sets it apart is that it can cater to both international and local students together. The cost of living is relatively middle range as compared to London, but if bracketed with the amount of money received from the studentship (especially for international students), it offers a lot of financial savings.

Manchester is considered an ideal city for PhD students, also because of its ultra-cheap living costs. The average bill for living in Manchester for a month is £733.89. Traveling around the city is ultra-cheap; you can basically go wherever you want to on foot. In Manchester, other education expenses such as tuition fees, rent, etc. are also affordable for students.

Check out: Highest Paying Unskilled Jobs in the UK For International PhD Students

  1. Reading

Reading is not as cheap as some of the other cities in our list for general living costs, as it is such a popular destination for students and thus tends to have slightly higher housing costs. However, it remains one of the most affordable places in the UK as rents in Reading are generally lower than in other cities like Manchester, Edinburgh, or Bristol.

Living in Reading costs about £1,025 a month. Rent is really affordable in this UK city and will likely consist of most of your budget, as a good chunk of your living expenses. The typical rent for Reading is around £600 for a one-bedroom flat or apartment. If you include the average cost of the internet, electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage, which is around £197, residing in this city would cost roughly £800.

  1. Leicester

Leicester is famous for its diversity, culture, and cosmopolitan atmosphere. It has recently been named one of the top 10 cities in the UK to live in due to the quality of life and low living costs. The cost of living for a student in Leicester is significantly less than in other cities in the UK, and this is reflected in the price of accommodation and the general cost of daily living.

The national average for weekly rent on a one-bedroom property is about £190. In Leicester, you could save an average of £50-£60 compared to this. Multi-bedroom properties tend to offer even better value, with a two-bedroom property in Leicester costing on average around £100-£400 a month.

Leicester is one of the few cities in the UK in which there is easy access to a part-time job due to its low unemployment rate. On average, a part-time job in Leicester can raise around £5-£5.50 per hour, and it shouldn’t be hard to find a job that offers around 20 hours of work per week.

  1. Sheffield

4th largest city in the UK, this vibrant city often goes under the radar. Sheffield is approximately 16% cheaper than London, students manage to live comfortably with an average annual cost of living of £10,000 and some of the lowest accommodation rates in the UK. As one of the cheapest cities in the UK for PhD students, Sheffield on average has accommodation rated at £132 per week for a shared house.

Sheffield is an ideal city for new PhD students, as it’s one of the cheapest cities in the UK for students in general and there are plenty of opportunities for part-time work. That said, Sheffield is not just a city for students and researchers, it’s also a city of industry. Sheffield was once known as the steel capital of the world, and at the heart of the city is Sheffield Forgemasters.

  1. Leeds

Leeds is one of the most popular cities for students and postgraduate students in the UK and it ranks 5th in the UK Best Cities to Live Index. The availability of jobs for students is high at 7.2%. About 60,000 students attend one of its five universities, plus an additional seven in less than one hour’s walk. It is well located, less than three hours north of London by train, and about an hour of travel with other high-profile cities.

Leeds is indeed home to one of the UK’s most active student-university populations, and living costs are considerably lower than the country’s averages: rent in the city center is about £659 per month against £732 of the UK’s average, and monthly expenses are around £522.97. Besides, given the city’s vast cultural offer of festivals, nightlife, and casinos, your PhD years in Leeds will not be monotonous.


We hope that this guide to the cheapest cities in the UK provides a useful resource for any PhD students looking to plan for their financial future. This guide presents an analysis of the average cost of living in UK cities as well as potential funding opportunities and tips for starting a budget.


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