The cost of living crisis is placing nearly 300,000 UK students in financial peril, with a disproportionate number of older, working-class or Black students likely to drop out, according to analysis by a university group.
The MillionPlus group – an association of modern universities in England and Scotland educating more than a million students – said national governments and regulators including the Office for Students (OfS) and the Scottish Funding Council should take immediate action to alleviate the severe financial pressures facing students.
Rachel Hewitt, chief executive of MillionPlus, said: “We must challenge the narrative that all students are 18-year-olds and are able to rely on parental support – increasingly, with household budgets being squeezed, this is not a lived reality.
“For mature students, those who are from low participation areas, first-in-family or commuter students, the cost of living crisis seriously risks forcing them out of higher education and damaging their future prospects.”
The MillionPlus research identifies more than 300,000 undergraduates across the UK who will be hardest hit financially in the coming academic year because of rising costs of food, transport, rent and energy.
“These students are more likely to belong to groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Black and mature students are the two groups most at-risk of immediate financial hardship,” it stated.
The largest at-risk groups include 44,000 mature students aged over 25, along with up to 43,000 Black students and about 50,000 students from working-class backgrounds. Additionally, up to 68,000 “commuter students” who live off campus are expected to face financial difficulties.
“Given the close links between thoughts of quitting, mental health problems and financial difficulties, universities face significant rates of attrition in the coming months,” the report stated.
The group calls for student maintenance loans or grants to be increased, and for the OfS and Scottish Funding Council to expand hardship funding allocations for universities.
The report comes as universities are trying to help more students through innovative programmes. The University of East London is to boost grants for students on the verge of dropping out because of financial difficulties, while others are subsidising the cost of food and household products sold on campus. The University of Bolton is giving food vouchers and discounted travel to students, while the University of the West of Scotland has started offering free breakfasts.
Many students were unlikely to benefit from government support being offered to households. Full-time students are already exempt from council tax and few are eligible for means-tested benefits, meaning they cannot access the government’s household support fund. Students in university accommodation will not benefit from energy rebates, and few are likely to benefit from tax cuts.
The report comes as representatives of school catering organisations warned that rising prices are leading to lower-quality school meals, with caterers seeking to cut costs through smaller portions or cheaper ingredients.