Jo Johnson says students can tackle living costs by 'choosing to live frugally'
Students can choose a "frugal existence" to help cope with the financial burden of university living costs, a Tory minister has said.
Jo Johnson said that while some students would be subsidised by their parents, others could work, save money or "live very modestly" to make ends meet.
Appearing at a fringe event at the Conservative conference in Manchester, the higher education minister came under fire from consumer finance expert Martin Lewis, who pointed out that for many students means-testing reduces their maintenance loan from £9,000 to £5,000 a year.
With the cost of accommodation alone in some cities exceeding £6,000 a year, many students are reliant on money from their parents to make up the shortfall.
Mr Lewis, who in 2012 launched the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information, said the "biggest problem" in student finance was not tuition fees but that the "loans aren't big enough" to cover living costs.
But Mr Johnson said students had other options to cover their expenses, including keeping their spending as low as possible.
"There may be a gap but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a gap that must be filled by parental contribution. There are many other ways in which students could fill that gap.
"They could work as many, many students do, they can also save. Then, of course they can borrow from their parents if they wish, but it isn't necessarily a parental contribution."
"What is also so important to bear in mind is that students have many different choices about the kind of lifestyle they want at university. Some students want to live very modestly and have a frugal existence, focusing on their studies. Other students may want a different lifestyle but there isn't one cost of going to university, it's a very specific choice that each student must make."
Labour MP Wes Streetng a former president of the National Union of Students, said many students could not get by under the current loan system.
"Ministers need to get real about the real pressures on students' finances," he said. "Too many students are now struggling to make ends meet on student loans alone and, even where they can find part-time work, students from the poorest backgrounds have less time to spend on their course because they're spending too much time stacking shelves or pulling pints.
"Instead of tinkering around the edges with tuition fees, the Tories should re-introduce non-payable grants for the poorest students, which they so callously scrapped. It's no wonder that young people have abandoned the Tories when the Tories have abandoned them."
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said: "Jo Johnson's ignorance about students' lives is absolutely breath-taking. These comments reveal a Minister so out of touch he doesn't seem to care that students are being saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of debt and their families are experiencing the worst fall in wages for 200 years.