A recent survey of 10,000 students by Advance HE and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) suggests that the majority of university students are now in paid employment, increasing from 45% in 2022 to 55% in 2023.
Furthermore, those in paid employment work a mean of 13.5 hours a week: an increase from previous years.
This shift has come as a response to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, with rising student living costs often outpacing maintenance loan adjustments. Students have consequently found themselves pushed into paid employment to cover up gaps in existing student budgets.
A survey conducted by Save the Student in September 2022 found that student living costs had increased by 14%, whilst maintenance loans are only set to increase by 2.8% in England and 9.4% in Wales.
Being able to afford clubs and societies related to my course is not as easy. I often have to think about whether an event is worth the money I’d spend on travel and tickets, so I don’t attend as many society events
In Scotland, maintenance loans are set to increase by £900 for the 2023-2024 academic year. As a result, there is a mounting divergence between inflows and outflows in student accounts, applying uneven pressure to those from less-well-off socioeconomic backgrounds.
In a cost-of-living survey conducted by The Sutton Trust, 30.9% of those in paid work stated that they have skipped multiple lectures to work a shift, with a third of students from working-class backgrounds skipping meals in order to cut costs.
Financial concerns have also hit the broader student experience as they damage students’ ability to participate in sports, societies, and other social activities. Findings from the cost-of-living survey by Warwick Students’ Union (SU), for instance, have shown that 69% could not afford to join a sports club and 45% could not afford to join a society.
One student’s response to Sutton Trust polling was: “Being able to afford clubs and societies related to my course is not as easy. I often have to think about whether an event is worth the money I’d spend on travel and tickets, so I don’t attend as many society events.”
[the government is] also making an additional £15 million available… to support universities to top up their own hardship funds
–Robert Halfon, Government Minister
In response to the current situation, Robert Halfon, the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships, and Higher Education said in January: “For the sixth year in a row, we have frozen tuition fees for a full-time undergraduate course at a maximum of £9,250 which will reduce the initial amount of debt
students will take on.” The minister added that the government is “also making an additional £15 million available … to support universities to top up their own hardship funds”.
Stuart Croft, Vice Chancellor of the University of Warwick, has stated that new support includes: “an additional £3.5m to support our community, including extra help for over 3,000 students from lower-income families to help ease the burden of rising bills”.
Nevertheless, 45% of students are unaware of the existing Hardship Fund, and according to the SU, 51% strongly disagreed with the statement that “I have received adequate support from the hardship fund following my application”.