More than half of UK students ‘could drop out’ due to cost of living

UUK wants government to reinstate maintenance grants and increase support for graduate students

September 3, 2022
Student budget
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UK universities have called on the government to provide “targeted” hardship funding, as a survey finds a majority of students reporting that the rising cost of living could prevent them from continuing their studies this autumn.

Amid soaring inflation, 67 per cent of students say they are concerned about managing living costs this term, while 55 per cent say they could be forced to abandon their studies as a result, according to a Savanta ComRes poll commissioned by Universities UK (UUK).

The group, which represents 140 UK institutions, is urging Westminster to reinstate maintenance grants for accommodation and other living costs for the students hit hardest.

“Most government measures designed to alleviate cost of living pressures are unlikely to reach the vast majority of students, as they are mainly targeted towards those on means-tested benefits, pensioners and families,” said UUK.

It wants to ensure that “any government action to support people with rising costs, such as energy, can be accessed by students across the UK, including those in halls”.

The group stressed the need for increased financial support for postgraduate researchers, with higher levels of anxiety reported among those who work or have caring responsibilities. For students over 30, 85 per cent are concerned about living costs, the survey found. UK Research and Innovation has since announced plans to raise its minimum stipend by 10 per cent

Top concerns for both younger and older students include utility and rent bills, followed by the cost of food and transport.

UUK has encouraged affected students to contact their institutions for help. But the group cautioned that while universities would be “stepping up support” over coming months, the tuition fee freeze in England “means that they are already operating with a severely stretched funding base”.

In the past 12 months, 88 per cent of students said they had received financial support of some kind. Of that group, 52 per cent got a maintenance grant or loan and 38 per cent had support from friends or family. Sixty-two per cent received state financial support, while 34 per cent were supported by their university.

Ahead of the coming winter – which is expected to exacerbate living costs as fuel use increases – Steve West, the UUK president, called on government officials to take “immediate action”.

“It’s time to bring back the maintenance grant and make sure it keeps pace with inflation. Universities are targeting available hardship funding where it is needed the most, but with the value of maintenance loans falling to its lowest level in seven years, this will not be enough for many,” he said.

Professor West warned that without government intervention, some students could face no choice but to withdraw from their studies.

“With inflation reaching record highs and energy bills soaring, they need extra support right now, before they decide their living costs are so high that they can’t afford to continue with their studies.”

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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