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 that 91 per cent of higher education students in England were worried about the cost of living this month, while 77 per cent feared financial pressures would negatively affect their studies.
With UK inflation at 11.1 per cent, housing costs rising and tight public spending limiting support for students, the figures suggest the economic 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.
Just a fifth of students in the ONS figures said they were doing well financially, while 35 per cent said they had minor and 15 per cent major financial difficulties. Another 29 percent said they were just about getting by.
The figures also showed that some students’ learning was affected more than others, with 29 per cent skipping non-compulsory lectures or tutorials to save costs. A corresponding proportion studied more at home or attended lectures externally instead of going to university.
A quarter had taken on new debt or increased their use of credit, in most cases because the student loan did not cover living costs. Almost a fifth of students said they had considered moving home because of the financial squeeze, although a much smaller number were actively planning to.
Sophie Pender, the founder of the 93% Club, an association of state-educated students, said the data suggested education could become more shared, with some students studying in libraries, living near campus and joining sports teams, while others stayed in substandard. accommodation without time to study.
“We are in dangerous territory,” she said. “How can we ever have a thriving Britain where access to, and enjoyment of, university depends on the money behind us rather than the brains in our heads?”
The ONS figures, based on a survey of more than 4,200 pupils between October 24 and November 7, also found pupils reported being less happy than adults.
Students rated their satisfaction at an average of 5.9, compared to 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 called on the government to “provide targeted hardship funding” to prevent the cost of living becoming so high that students could no longer study.
Universities offered support including offering cheap meals, increasing hardship funding or freezing accommodation prices, he added.