Students are struggling to meet their everyday costs, prompting warnings of a looming "living crisis" as many face funding shortfalls of thousands of pounds.
Figures analysed by the National Union of Students (NUS) show while student loans are available for fees and maintenance, they have not kept up with rising living costs.
The union analysed figures on the cost of living and studying for students based on a 39-week academic year in 2013/14 and compared these with typical Government maintenance and loan payments for the same period.
It concluded that students outside London will pay out an average of £21,440.
Of this, £12,160 is for living costs such as rent, food, insurance, travel and leisure. The rest is spent on tuition fees and study-related costs such as books.
On average, a student outside the capital will have an income from fees and loans of £13,747, leaving a shortfall of £7,693.
Those studying in London will pay out £23,187, of which £13,521 is living costs, with an income of £15,533. This leaves a shortfall of £7,654.
NUS president Toni Pearce said: "Many students starting university this month are facing a cost of living crisis, with available financial support in loans and grants failing to keep pace with spiralling bills for basic essentials.
"Those who do not have the rare luxury of resorting to the 'bank of mum and dad' are increasingly being driven to work full-time alongside study where jobs can be found, or, worse still, into the arms of predatory payday lenders just to make ends meet.
"We need a financial support system that ensures students get the support they need, when they need it."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "The student finance package targets limited Government resources at those who need it most. This year, students from the lowest income households can access over £7,100 of living cost support, of which over £3,350 does not have to be repaid.
"The Government also provides additional, non-repayable support to students in specific circumstances, such as students with children and disabled students. Scholarships and bursaries are also available from most universities, and students in hardship can apply for additional support through the Access to Learning Fund."