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‘I really don’t eat at all’: students in England on cost of living crisis


Office for National Statistics digs deeper into student experience as costs rise

The rising cost of living is worsening the university experience for some students, with the crisis affecting academic performance, skills development and wellbeing, the Office for National Statistics has found.

According to the ONS, which conducted interviews with 25 students from universities in England, students have struggled with the impact of rising prices, with some skipping meals or leaving the heating off.

The interviews build on research by the ONS in February, which found that 92 per cent of survey respondents reported that their cost of living had risen compared with the previous year, with 65 per cent saying they had cut back on spending on food and other essentials as a result.

Cutting back on essentials

One of those interviewed by the ONS, an 18-year-old first-year in the 2022-23 academic year called Ryan, said: “Some days I really don’t eat at all.”

“When it was really cold, instead of putting the heating on I just [went] to the library…that I knew was hot, just to stay there,” he said.

Another, David, a 34-year-old undergraduate student, said he had built up a pot of savings before beginning his studies but had found himself more reliant on his savings than expected.

“This year we are counting every penny that comes into our account [and] every penny that leaves our account,” he said. “[My savings were a] security pot, whereas currently it’s more a general living pot…It’s a weekly thing I’m having to draw from.”

Students in England borrowed an average of £7,010 in maintenance loans to pay for accommodation and living costs in the 2021-22 academic year, the ONS said. For the 2022-23 academic year, the value of loans available to cover living costs rose by 2.3 per cent. However, annual inflation peaked at 9.6 per cent in the year to October 2022, meaning the loan value fell in real terms.

Falling deeper into debt

Ella, a 26-year-old postgraduate student, said that—like 30 per cent of survey respondents—they had to take on additional debt because their student loan did not cover their living costs.

“Unfortunately, [the maintenance loan] doesn’t cover as much as it used to a few years ago,” they said.

Meanwhile, 34 per cent of the February survey respondents reported not attending course-related events to save money. Imran, one of those interviewed, said he was unable to afford some of the materials needed for his course.

“I feel like having those resources would have helped me write better essays, enriched my understanding of the materials I was studying,” he said. “And that sometimes feels like a lost opportunity.”

Chloe Field, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said she was “sick and tired” of discussions about the dire impact of the cost of living crisis on students.

“Students are the nurses, doctors, teachers and public sector workers of the future. We are the scientists and engineers who will make breakthroughs that transform society and solve our most pressing issues, such as the climate crisis. Yet all too many are having our futures blighted by poverty and hardship that risks their potential,” she said.