From education to employment

Latest ONS survey reveals impact of cost-of-living crisis on university students

someone on a laptop
  • 92% said cost of living has increased compared to a year ago
  • More than 9 in 10 (91%) students were either somewhat or very worried about the rising cost of living
  • 46% of students reported their mental health and well-being had worsened since the start of the autumn term 2022
  • More than three-quarters (78%) of students were concerned that the rising cost of living may affect how well they do in their studies

University students across the UK have revealed the full impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on them as the academic year reaches the halfway point. Results from a recent survey conducted by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) have found that students are struggling to keep up with rising bills and rent, with many now considering leaving university to save on costs. 

According to the ONS survey, which was released today, 92% of students revealed that their cost of living had increased over the past year with bills making up the lion share of their expenses. The survey also found that 46% of respondents reported their mental health and well-being had worsened.

In total, 1,965 students from across the UK took part in the survey which aimed to explore the impact of the crisis on students in higher education. More than three quarters (78%) of students admitted they were concerned that the rising cost of living may affect how well they do in their studies.

Commissioned by Universities UK (UUK), the survey is a follow up to an earlier study done in November 2022. UUK which represents 140 universities has been working alongside its members to better understand the scale of the issue in the hope of offering better support to students during these difficult times. Informed by shared practice and taking inspiration from member institutions, the work is being led by Professor Karen Cox, Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Kent.

Universities across the country have already been working hard to offer a wide range of support to help reduce the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students, despite dealing with financial pressures themselves.

Professor Steve West CBE, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol, said:

“Despite the tremendous effort made by higher education institutions over the past few months to reduce the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students, it feels like a never-ending battle. Rising costs in bills and rent are just some of the issues students are worried about, with the stress of the current situation impacting their mental health.

“The latest results from the ONS survey further highlights the worrying impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on students up and down the country, even over the past few months. While universities are going the extra mile to support those who need it, the reality is that the student maintenance package in England is at its lowest value in seven years and students are also eligible for much lower maintenance loans than when the system was designed. With inflation still in double digits, it’s imperative that the maintenance support package is looked at more closely – the recently announced uplift for next year will not recover the real terms cut students are seeing.”

The University of Kent has introduced a range of initiatives to help support students with accommodation costs. Since the start of the academic year, the university has fixed accommodation prices with utility bills included in the cost. They have also provided students access to hardship funding, all day £3 meal deals and a campus food pantry.

Zaid Mahmood, student union president at the University of Kent said:

“As the cost of living has worsened, we have seen a massive increase in usage of the campus food pantry. From 2021 to 2022, we only saw about 48 people use it. Currently over 200 students access the pantry, which shows how bad food insecurity is among students. It has got worse, maintenance loans haven’t increased in line with inflation, things like this make a massive impact on students. When you’re a full-time student your focus should be your education, but we’ve seen because of the crisis students are having to support themselves with multiple jobs while doing their full-time education.

He added:

“A lot of the issues caused by the crisis cannot be fixed by one student union alone or one university, the wider issue is a national issue that needs to be tackled by government. Students are a vulnerable group who are the future of this country, they need to be supported effectively by the government.”

Many universities across the UK are now tailoring a portion of their support to the most vulnerable student groups. For example, Greenwich University first year students are entitled to an accommodation bursary of up to £700. The university also offers students from low-income backgrounds a commuter bursary of up to £1000 a year to help cover rising travel costs. Undergraduate and postgraduate students from low-income backgrounds at the university are also eligible for financial assistance of up to £200 one off to support with energy bills.

Stirling University offers its care experienced, estranged students and student carers the option to apply for an additional annual bursary to assist with study costs, and a graduation bursary to assist with gown hire and photographs. Students at the university with children are also entitled to childcare and lone parent childcare grants. The university also offers an accommodation enhancement fund, which provides financial assistance towards rent costs.

Sunderland University and other universities in the North East have come together to provide extra support to care experienced students. Through the Northeast Raising Aspiration Partnership (NERAP) five universities in the region (Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside) have committed to offering support to care-experienced students throughout their higher education journey.

Eddy Conniff, 29, a care experienced student at Sunderland University said:

“I live independently, so finance is an important thing for me but luckily in my university we get a bursary, it’s called the ‘we care’ bursary and that’s for care experienced students. It’s £2000 a year which is a huge help.”

Speaking on the financial challenges that care experienced students are facing during the cost-of-living crisis, he added:

“Not having parents or family to go to regarding finances which for a lot of people is the norm, if you don’t have that, it can have a major impact to you personally. It could have a knock-on impact to your education as well.”

Related Articles