Today, the Sutton Trust has published new polling on the impact of the cost of living crisis on students. Today’s polling explores students’ experiences of undertaking paid work alongside their studies, including the impact on lecture attendance and meeting deadlines. We found that almost half (49%) of students have missed classes to undertake paid work, and just under a quarter (23%) report that they have missed a deadline or asked for an extension in order to work.

We also looked at this issue back in January. Looking at a range of factors, we found that students, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, were affected by the rising cost of living, with a quarter (24%) of students saying they are less likely to finish their degree as a result of the cost of living crisis.

In this blog we hear from students on how how the crisis has affected their university experience.

Lifestyle changes

Since the start of the autumn term, 63% of students surveyed reported having spent less on food and essentials, with 28% saying they had skipped meals to save on food costs. One student said that they are “only eating 2 meals a day and skipping meals and walking to campus more to avoid paying for transport”. This was reiterated by another student who said “I didn’t envisage the cost of living crisis to impact me as much as it has. My food bill was affordable in previous years, but now I’m probably spending 20 to 30% more each week on the same foods I bought previously”.

Many students have also found that their rent has significantly increased. One student said that her student accommodation had “increased in rent from £163 in first year to now £192 in third year” which she is struggling to afford, even after receiving a maintenance loan and a bursary from her university.

Because of the cost of essentials rising, many students reported having to cut back on non-essential costs such as socialising and attending student societies. Our research found that 47% of students surveyed had stopped or reduced going out socially with friends to save money on rent and bills.

Discussing attending societies and sports at their university, one student said: “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.” Another student said that they had been unable to participate in any society sports due to the “high initial joining fees”, meaning they feel left out compared to their peers. These opportunities are important for the wellbeing and skills development of students, and therefore it is essential that all students can access them, no matter their background or financial circumstances.

Making ends meet

As a result of rising costs, our polling found that 48% of students have been turning to parents and other family members for financial support. However, this was less often 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% for middle class students), or other family members (9% vs 12%).  One student we spoke to did ask their family for financial support, but said “it was not a comfortable or easy experience”, describing the “sense of guilt” they had about asking for money whilst everyone is being affected by the rising cost of living.

Other students have had to take on more hours of paid work to support themselves, with our polling last month showing that 27% of students had gotten a job or taken on more hours to make ends meet, and today’s polling highlighting that nearly half of students have missed a class due to paid work. One student expressed their worries about this, saying “the cost of living crisis is making me worried and stressed, as I’ve had to sacrifice my study time to get a job to support my financial needs. Balancing all-day university clinical placements and working is impacting my academics”.

University support funds

Whilst grants and bursaries have been made available to students by universities for extra support during this time, students have expressed that these have not gone far enough or have been difficult to access. One student described how they did go to their university fund for students in need of financial support, however they found that the process of applying was long-winded and required a lot of supporting evidence. They also had to wait a month to receive a decision. Discussing their experience, they said “I was fortunate to receive some money, however, it’s not a system I could trust if I needed support in an emergency”. Another student who held a leadership position within their university said, “I found there was a huge reluctance to claim financial support.”

We are calling for more funding from the government to go to universities for hardship funds, as well as for universities to take steps to ensure that this support is clearly communicated to students, ensuring that the process is as quick as possible so that students in urgent need are able to access support.

Government support

Some students expressed that the funding they receive from the government in the form of maintenance loans just isn’t enough. One student said: “Now more than ever, I feel that the government are expecting parents and families to help support students and young people. This is not an option for me. Surviving on my maintenance loan alone, I would not be able to afford my rent”.

And this picture is not expected to improve. The government has announced that, in England, maintenance loans will only increase by 2.8% this year, despite levels of inflation being significantly higher.

We are calling for the government to urgently review the funding available to students for day to day living costs. No student should be unable to afford food or think about dropping out of their course due to financial pressures.

In the medium term, the government should bring back maintenance grants at a level reflecting increased costs of living since they were abolished in 2015. This would help to ensure that all students, no matter their background or financial position, are able to succeed at university, without the prospect of amassing far higher debts than their better-off peers.

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