The government is being urged not to forget students in the cost of living crisis, as universities report growing numbers turning to them for help with financial worries.
Ahead of Friday’s mini-budget, the Russell Group of research-intensive universities called for an immediate uplift in maintenance loans in line with current inflation, as well as an increase in hardship funding to target those most in need.
The appeal from the group of 24 leading universities came as a survey suggested the average student’s maintenance loan now falls £439 short of covering their living costs every month, up from the £340 shortfall last year.
The National Student Money Survey 2022, which is conducted by Save the Student – a website which advises students on how to make their money go further – and is based on a poll of 2,300 university students, found four out of five (82%) students are worried about how to make ends meet, up from 76% last year. One in 10 of those who took part claimed they had used a food bank in the last academic year.
A second-year student at the University of Chichester told the survey: “With the prices of everything going up right now I find it hard to stay positive in life.” A first-year student at the University of Surrey said they went without food in order to be able to afford rent.
Jake Butler, Save the Student’s money expert, said: “This is the most worried I’ve ever been about the financial situation students are facing. In a decade of running the National Student Money Survey, this year’s findings are bleak. And we expect much worse is yet to come.”
Despite near double-digit inflation, the loan that students can access to support living costs has risen by only 2.3% for 2022/23, according to the Russell Group, which also points out that parental income thresholds used to calculate maximum loan amounts have remained static since 2008.
Dr Tim Bradshaw, the Russell Group chief executive, said: “As the government sets out its emergency budget to help those who are struggling with the cost of living crisis, it’s vital that students are not left out of the conversation.
“Our members are reporting growing numbers approaching them with financial concerns. While universities are stepping up support ahead of the start of the new term, including boosting financial aid, there is an urgent need for more assistance.”
In the longer term, the Russell Group also called for the reintroduction of means-tested maintenance grants for students who need them most.
The National Union of Students’ vice president for higher education, Chloe Field, said: “It’s shocking, but sadly not surprising to see this research out. NUS research has shown that students are faced with a huge crisis – low paid precarious work, loans not increasing by inflation and shoddy housing that they can’t afford to heat – and it’s having a huge negative impact on mental health. We need an emergency student support package for every single person studying and we need it now.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said maintenance loans been increased every year to support students with living costs, meaning disadvantaged students now have access to the highest ever amounts in cash terms.
“We understand global inflationary pressures are squeezing household finances and people are worried about covering the basics, meaning disadvantaged students now have access to the highest ever amounts in cash terms.
“Students who are worried about making ends meet should speak to their university about the support they can access. This year universities can boost their hardship funds by drawing on up to £261m we have made available through the Office for Students.”