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The Cost of Living Crisis: How Are Students Coping?

Many students are experiencing the stress and strain of rising living costs within the UK. The cost of living rise includes rent prices, food, and transportation. While the annual UK rates for petrol have dropped 13.1%, students who rely on public transportation have experienced rising prices at an average rise of 5.9%. 


Rail prices have increased by 6.9%, and in London, home to 40 higher education institutions, BBC reports the average pay-as-you-go Tube fare has increased by 30p while the average single journey bus fare has increased by 10p. 


This seemingly nominal increase can have detrimental effects to students’ overall financial health and well-being. 


The stress of having to pay for bills, food, tuition, transportation, and rent means students are finding themselves working more and neglecting their studies. These changes are particularly damaging for international or low-income students.


Russell Group Students’ Union Report states that 92% of students are concerned about the cost of living crisis, and 54% of students believe their academic performance has suffered as a result of the cost of living crisis. There has been little assistance from the government to rectify this precarious situation many students find themselves in. 


Anastasia Lewis states, “The most common reasons cited for considering dropping out of university was student’s mental health (60%) and money worries (52%).” 


The rising cost of living restricts students' purchasing power and ability to pay for necessities, but students are fighting back. The National Union of Students or NUS, is calling for a “tailored student cost of living support package”, which includes rent control, free transport, apprentices that at least pay the living wage, increasing maintenance loans with inflation, and adding additional grants or subsidies. 


Their Cost of Living campaign seeks 30,000 signatures to further financial benefits and assistance for students. 


Gabriel Clark-Clough a graduate student at The University of Westminster states, “My best financial option is to simply defect back to the United States… We’ve had a lot of issues, especially when you think about transportation and the rising cost. I do feel the strain of paying for food. 


When it comes to transportation, unless you are very on top of the bus schedules, it can get complicated. Rent is a lot more about luck: you can find a place that’s inexpensive and a good place for you, but that’s not guaranteed.”


Many international students are choosing the same. BBC reported in April 2023 on the cost of living affecting two struggling students. Zineb Bouita discussed how mentally draining the cost of living was and Liana Homjakova spoke on how the focus was on money. 


Ultimately, Bouita decided to return to her hometown and Homjakove, hailing from Latvia, is working full-time as a chef to support herself. During a time when attention should be given to education, it’s a struggle for many students to put education first.


There is a silver lining. Many students have decided to seek help and accommodation from university or local municipalities. One such program is offered through the University of Westminster. 


The Cost of Living Scheme provides a one-off £300 grant for students able to provide proof of raising rent or energy bill prices. The University of Greenwich offers £20 emergency food vouchers, and London South Bank University has three student hardship funds including the Student Retention Fund, an emergency fund to support those in need, a Remote Learning Fund, a direct cash payment to support cost of learning equipment, and a Care Leavers’ Bursary for care leavers. 


Many universities, including London South Bank University have increased their Student Retention Fund. In Scotland, a rent cap has been introduced until September 2023, but even with all the support, is enough being done to help students?


In the coming future, inflation is expected to slow. Food and non-alcoholic beverages rose by 18.4% versus the 19.1% they were at in April 2023, but the price of fish rose 16.6% from 14.2% in the year to April 2023. It was also reported 42% of individuals said they were spending less when buying food and necessities, and around half (49%) of adults said they were buying less when shopping for food. 


While it’s apparent that not only students are struggling, with limited income, students need a break. A poll done by The Sutton Trust reports that 63% of students have spent less on food and essentials with 28% stating they skipped meals to save food money.  


According to one student, they "only eat two meals a day, skip meals, and walk more to campus to avoid paying for transportation." Another student echoed this, saying, "I didn't anticipate the cost of living crisis to affect me as much as it has. 


In the past, my food bill was manageable, but now I probably spent 20 to 30 percent more every week on the same groceries.” The cost of needs is not the only concern students have.


Many students also worry about loan repayment. The Guardian reports the government has lowered the earning threshold at which student loan repayments begin, dropping from to  £27,295 to £25,000, with an upped repayment term from 30 years to 40 years. 


That means 52% of graduates will now be expected to repay their loans in full versus the 23% it is at now. When it comes to local help, local councils may be of assistance, but students risk competing with other at-risk groups for resources. 


There is no one-size fits all solution, but when almost half (49%) of students miss classes to undertake paid work, there’s a problem.


While inflation slows down, this does not mean the effects of it will disappear. Lingering mental health affects, increased physical fatigue, and lack of security or quality in food and housing will continue to affect students far into the future. 


The only hope remains that students are able to reach out for the help they need, and that more options become available so those who are trying to gain education need not worry about the basics their tuition and part-time job should cover.

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