The government is being urged not to forget students in the cost of living crisis as universities report growing numbers of people 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 increase in maintenance loans in line with current inflation, as well as increased hardship funding to target those who need it most.
The call from the group of 24 leading universities came as a survey suggested the average student maintenance loan was now £439 short of covering their living expenses each month, down from £340 last year.
The 2022 National Student Money Survey, which is conducted by Save the Student – a website that advises students on how to make their money work – and is based on a survey of 2,300 college students, found four out of five students (82%). worry about making ends meet, up from 76% last year. One in 10 participants said they had used a food bank in the past school year.
A second year student at the University of Chichester told the survey: ‘With the prices of everything at the moment, I find it hard to stay positive in life. A freshman at the University of Surrey said they were starving themselves so they could pay rent.
Jake Butler, Save the Student’s money expert, said: ‘This is the most worried I’ve ever been about student finances. In a decade of running the National Student Money Survey, the results this year are grim. And we expect much worse to come.
Despite near double-digit inflation, the loan students can access to meet living expenses has only increased by 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, chief executive of the Russell Group, said: “As the government draws up its emergency budget to help those battling the cost of living crisis, it is essential that students are not excluded from the conversation.
“Our members are reporting an increasing number of people approaching them with financial concerns. As universities ramp up their support ahead of the start of the new term, including increasing financial aid, there is an urgent need for more help.
In the longer term, the Russell Group has also called for the reintroduction of means-tested maintenance grants for students who need them most.
National Union of Students for Higher Education Vice President Chloe Field said: ‘It’s shocking, but sadly not surprising to see this research come out. NUS research has shown that students face a huge crisis – low-paying precarious work, loans that don’t grow due to inflation, and shoddy housing they can’t afford to heat – and it has a huge negative impact on mental health. We need an emergency student support program for everyone studying and we need it now.
Shadow universities minister Matt Western said: “Students are finding themselves increasingly hard hit by the cost of living crisis. Skyrocketing energy bills and cost of living are squeezing student budgets like never before and threatening students’ ability to complete their courses.
“Months ago it was clear that we were approaching a difficult winter. Yet this Conservative government has failed to find the solutions to the cost of living crisis that people desperately need.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said maintenance loans have been increased each year to help students with the cost of living, meaning disadvantaged students now have access to the most amounts. never before achieved in terms of liquidity.
“We understand that global inflationary pressures are squeezing household finances and people are worried about covering basic needs, which means disadvantaged students now have access to the highest amounts of cash ever.
“Students who are worried about making ends meet should talk to their university about the support they can access. This year, universities can boost their hardship funds by tapping up to £261m which we have made available through the Office for Students.