From education to employment

A quarter of students at risk of dropping out of university due to cost of living crisis

  • A third (33%) of students from working class families say they have skipped meals to save on food costs.    
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of students are spending less on food and essentials as a result of the rising cost of living.    
  • 43% of students said they are using less electricity or gas in their homes.

New research by the Sutton Trust, published today, highlights the serious impacts of rising living costs on students, with a quarter (24%) of students saying they are less likely to finish their degree as a result of the cost of living crisis. Today’s survey of 1,050 students across the UK, carried out by Savanta, reveals that students are facing considerable financial pressures.

Since the start of the autumn term in September 2022, nearly two-thirds (63%) of students report having spent less on food and essentials, with over a quarter (28%) saying they have skipped meals to save on food costs. Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to report skipping meals (33% for students from working class families compared to 24% of middle class students).

43% of students overall said they have used less fuel (such as electricity or gas) in their homes and 47% had stopped or reduced going out with friends. 6% reported moving back in with their family to save money on rent or bills, with working class students more likely to report this than middle class students (10% vs 4%). 16% travelled to campus less to save on transport and other costs, while 14% travelled to campus more to use free energy like heating. 18% have avoided buying university supplies they needed for their course (e.g. laptops/textbooks).

The survey also explores what kind of support students are accessing. It reveals that many students are turning to parents (45%) for additional financial support. However, this is often not an option for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with lower proportions of working class students receiving additional support from their parents (38%, vs 48% of their better off peers). 27% of students overall have gotten a job or taken on more hours to make ends meet, 11% have received support such as hardship funds from their university, 4% have taken out additional private loans and 2% have used a food bank or other charity support.

The energy support scheme has been one of the government’s key elements of support for households during the cost of living crisis. The scheme has given every household in England, Wales and Scotland £400 to help with energy costs. If someone’s landlord received this payment from their energy company they should have passed this £400 onto the individual – including for students. However, 40% of students living in private rental accommodation said they have not received this payment from either their landlord or their energy company.

In terms of other government support, in England, the government has recently announced maintenance loans will only increase by 2.8% this year, despite high levels of inflation. In Wales they will increase by 9.4%. The government in England has recently made an additional £15 million available for hardship funds – alongside an existing £261 million that universities are able to use for hardship funds  – however, £41 million of that is reserved for the disabled students’ pupil premium. The rest is ‘to support successful student outcomes’ and includes funding for widening participation and outreach activities – so much of this is unlikely to be used for hardship funds. Analysis by the Sutton Trust finds that if the new £15 million was split between undergraduate students in England from the most deprived areas, it equates to only £67 per student.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Today’s polling shows the serious impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students. It is scandalous that students are skipping meals and having to cut back on essentials, and that a staggering quarter of students say they are now less likely to finish their degree as a result of the crisis.

“To make sure that students can afford to fully take part in their course and wider university life, the Sutton Trust is calling for the government to urgently review the amount of funding and support available to students. ”           

Related Articles