A new report published by the Russell Group Student Union’s sheds light on the escalating cost of living for students in the UK. Entitled the Student Cost of Living report, the report surveyed over 8,000 students across the UK to gather data on their living expenses and financial situations. 94% of which, were found to be concerned about the cost of living crisis, over 50% having to borrow money from either the government or family in the last year alone.
The average student living costs, including accommodation, food, bills, and other expenses, have risen by 14% over the last five years. It was estimated that the average student that responded to the survey fell under the UK poverty line, with an average of £72 per week, putting the respondents merely £2 above the UK’s destitution line. After paying all expenses, students are left with £30 to £50.
Over 80% of students have had their students experience hampered by the rising prices, with most having to reduce the amount of time spent socializing in order to raise enough money to get by
This has negatively affected the mental, physical, and academic health of these students, with 54% stating that their academic performance has suffered due to the increase in prices, and nearly 60% have stopped all extra-curricular activities to work. Over 80% of students have had their students experience hampered by the rising prices, with most having to reduce the amount of time spent socializing in order to raise enough money to get by. This has led to a steep decline in mental health, with 72% of students having stated that they had suffered from the increased prices, with 1 in 4 regularly going without food or necessities because they cannot afford them.
Moreover, another key issue raised in the report was the lack of university aid and the fear of student debt. The support that students receive has not risen in line with inflation, and students oftentimes are not eligible for additional benefits or cost-of-living-related support from the government. International students face additional problems, with academic demands and work restrictions, limiting the hours that each student can earn to just 20 hours per week, contributing to the hardships faced with tuition fees and cost of living, limiting the ability for students to meet the rising costs, and exacerbating debt and mental, social, and academic fatigue. Unsurprisingly, in a survey within this report, it was also revealed that student finances are affected by family background. The top four groups which reported having less than a 100 pounds in savings were students whose parents have no qualifications, those with a household income of less than 25,001 pounds/annum, those with caring responsibilities and international students. As a result of facing these pressures, students reported that socialising, extracurricular activities and ‘non-essentials’ such as preventative health care, dental care and mental health support are the first to go when cutting back.
When there is accessible support, however, respondents noted that the financial help given isn’t enough to offset the financial pressures they are facing
Students have also found the support that is provided by universities and the government inadequate or inaccessible. With most sources having either low publicity or being famous for their inaccessible procedures. When there is accessible support, however, respondents noted that the financial help given isn’t enough to offset the financial pressures they are facing. There is also a clear lack of effective outreach and communication for universities regarding financial support, with nearly half of all students unaware of their Students’ Union’s hardship funds, the main source of financial support available for students.
However, this doesn’t change the perspective that most international students have on financial aid and support sources, agreeing that there is an unnaturally limited number of resources given to international students. With one such student stating “The financial aid that the university provides is exclusive and limited to local UK students.” Moreover, due to the scarcity of resources, only a limited number of applications are considered for international students as well, and only in exceptional circumstances. The negative impact of this cost-of-living crisis can be a hard hit for universities also since the report assesses that more and more students are questioning whether their degree is ‘good value for money’, and the point to note is that this is unrelated to the quality of course taught but entirely based on financial insecurity.
The impact of the cost of living is right in front of our eyes and requires action by both students and universities to alleviate the extreme mental and economic pressure that students face. The report recommends that maintenance loans need to rise in line with inflation, grants should be reintroduced to support the most disadvantaged students, and international students should be provided with more flexibility in their working restrictions.
“Crucially, this research shows that students should be recognised as an at-risk group. They are particularly vulnerable to financial insecurity and hardship, and yet are often ignored or overlooked in conversations around poverty and cost of living. If we do not step up for students now, we run the risk of allowing UK higher education to become one only for the most privileged in society, and undoing decades of access and participating work in the sector.”
“I’m scared that I won’t be able to afford food as I’ll be struggling to afford the roof over my head. My mental health has gotten very bad because of this and I’m struggling to find a work/life/study balance, but I need the money.”
‘I have cried many nights about my choices to come to London where it is so very expensive to live and study. I regret my choice because of the financial burden I have placed on my family.’
“I work the max amount that I can, yet I barely can cover my rent let alone anything else. I miss meals. I have had my physical and mental health deteriorate. I worry every day about how much change I have left.”
“I’ve had to eat very little food in a week to save money, not joined clubs/societies that I would’ve wanted to and only been out once or twice because I can’t afford to. Having 2 jobs has obviously affected my studies and the constant worry about being able to finically survive has hugely affected my mental health to the point of nearly dropping out multiple times.”