Students are skipping in-person lectures and taking on new debt in response to the cost of living crisis, according to official statistics that suggest rising prices are creating divisions in young people’s university experiences.
Figures published on Wednesday by the Office for National Statistics show 91 per cent of higher education students in England were worried about living costs this month, while 77 per cent feared financial pressures would negatively affect their studies.
With UK inflation running at 11.1 per cent, housing costs rising and tight government spending limiting support for students, the figures suggest the financial squeeze is undermining their educational experiences and achievements.
Chloe Field, vice-president of the National Union of Students, said students were being “ignored” by the government. Student maintenance loans, the main form of government support, rose by just 2.3 per cent to an annual £9,706 outside London this year.
Only one-fifth of students in the ONS figures said they were managing well financially, while 35 per cent said they faced minor and 15 per cent major financial difficulties. A further 29 per cent said they were just about managing.
The figures also showed some students’ learning was affected more than others, with 29 per cent skipping non-mandatory lectures or tutorials to save on costs. A similar proportion were studying more at home or attending lectures remotely instead of travelling to university.
A quarter had taken on new debts or increased their use of credit, in a majority of cases because their student maintenance loan did not cover living costs. Nearly one-fifth of students said they had considered moving home because of the financial squeeze, though a much smaller number actively planned to.
Sophie Pender, the founder of the 93% Club, an association of state-educated students, said the data suggested education could become more divided, with some students studying in libraries, living near campuses and joining sports teams, while others were left in substandard accommodation with no time to study.
“We are in dangerous territory,” she said. “How can we ever have a thriving UK where access to university, and the enjoyment of it, is dependent on the money we have behind us rather than the brains we have in our head?”
The ONS figures, based on a survey of more than 4,200 students between October 24 and November 7, also found students reported being less happy than adults.
Students rated their satisfaction on average at 5.9, compared with 6.8 for the general population. However, average satisfaction was only slightly lower than among all 16-29 year olds.
Steve West, president of Universities UK, which represents providers, said students risked “becoming the forgotten group” in the cost of living crisis. He urged the government to “provide targeted hardship funding” to prevent living costs becoming so high that students could no longer study.
Universities were offering support including offering cheap meals, increasing hardship funding, or freezing accommodation prices, he added.