A recent study conducted by the Russell Group Students’ Unions, representing 24 prestigious higher education institutions in the UK, has revealed that one in five students at these universities are contemplating dropping out due to the cost of living crisis. The research highlights the severe impact of soaring prices on students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. More than half of the surveyed students reported a decline in academic performance, with many resorting to additional paid work, facing concentration issues, and skipping lectures due to financial constraints. Unless immediate action is taken, this crisis could limit university access to only the most privileged individuals, undermining progress made in expanding higher education opportunities.
Urgent Action Required to Address the Cost of Living Crisis
The chief executive of the Russell Group, Dr. Tim Bradshaw, expressed concern about the distressing findings and urged the government to take urgent action to address the flaws in the maintenance loans system. In Wednesday’s budget, he called for an adjustment of loans to account for inflation since 2020/21 and the reconsideration of maintenance grants for the most disadvantaged students. Additionally, the group recommended a review of the parental threshold for maximum loan support, which has remained frozen since 2008.
Disproportionate Impact on Marginalized and International Students
The study, based on responses from over 8,500 students, revealed that more than three in ten students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds were contemplating dropping out. Marginalized and disadvantaged students, as well as disabled and part-time students, were among those most likely to leave. International students, restricted from working more than 20 hours per week, also faced significant challenges.
Harsh Realities of Student Poverty
Dani Bradford, policy and research manager at Students’ Union UCL, led the research
Bradford highlighted the dire realities of student poverty, emphasizing that the average respondent fell below the UK poverty line and had only a meager £2 per week above the level of destitution after paying for housing. The situation goes beyond a lack of socializing or small luxuries; many students are experiencing severe poverty with no clear path out of their predicament.
The consequences of this crisis extend far beyond financial struggles. Students reported feelings of extreme anxiety, loneliness, and even suicidal thoughts. Some families were sacrificing their own comfort by refraining from heating their homes so that their student children could afford to eat. Bradford underscored the normalization of student suffering and the alarming risk of eviction and prolonged periods without food that many students face.
One such student, Sophie Bush, a first-year student at UCL studying history and philosophy of science, revealed that the escalating cost of living had led her to seriously contemplate dropping out. Bush, originally from Essex, is living in university accommodation in London and aspires to pursue a Masters and PhD. However, financial constraints may force her to abandon parts of her educational goals, which she finds profoundly disheartening.
In conclusion, the cost of living crisis is threatening the university education of a significant portion of students at Russell Group universities. Urgent action is needed to address the flaws in the maintenance loans system and provide additional support to financially disadvantaged students. Failure to do so could further exacerbate inequality in higher education and hinder progress made in widening access to students from all backgrounds.
Read the full guardian article.
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