“It’s kind of scary” – Students worried about Cost of Living at university

Student worries about finances are nothing new. The popular image of the ‘skint student’ is pervasive, but the current pressures of the cost of living crisis are making student life financially untenable, particularly for those from under-resourced backgrounds.

As we covered in our last blog post, the current crisis is impacting the entire education system and the university experience, with 91% of students polled by the ONS worried about the rising cost of living, 49% feeling they have financial difficulties and 65% cutting back on essential spending. This has hit students from under-resourced backgrounds hardest. The Sutton Trust reported last year that 33% of students in working class families are skipping meals and 10% are planning to move home to save on rent or bills.

At The Access Project, we demystify university for school students from under-resourced backgrounds through individualised mentoring, and finances have always been part of the conversation. However, the cost of living crisis provides a poignant context to delve deeper into how financial considerations can influence university choices.

Cost of Living affecting student prospects

As part of our ongoing research, we spoke with a group of Year 12 students from across the country about their experiences. Co-facilitated by our student researchers, they discussed how financial concerns sit alongside other factors, whether it is affecting which universities they choose, what their families have to say and if it is causing them to doubt university entirely.

Although all in the group planned to attend university (as we would expect from students on The Access Project), they recognised the upcoming financial challenges and reflected on how many peers are choosing non-university pathways due to cost. As students from under-resourced backgrounds, they are actively discussing university finances with their families and peer groups, specifically the rising cost of accommodation, transport, and course materials. They expressed finding a job at university would be a necessity, but some have already been struggling to find part time work during sixth form. They aren’t hopeful that it will get any easier.

Regional impact of Cost of Living

In regions where there are fewer top universities, students are faced with a series of challenging dilemmas. One student living in a rural part of northern England shared that her family and social group don’t believe university is the right choice despite her clear desire to study at one of the country’s top providers. She’s working part-time to save up money; she knows that her family won’t be able to support if she leaves. Other students living nearer to universities were planning on staying at home, partly to save costs but also to contribute to their household. The potential cost of leaving home to them and their families, has limited their choices in advance. All students agreed that it was unclear exactly how much university life cost. With seemingly endless amounts of information, it was hard to cut through the noise, and often, the only thing they hear are the horror stories.

One student said: “It’s kind of scary. You hear a lot of stories about living off ramen and rice and stuff like that. You just have to learn how to save. You have to be responsible with your money and not spend it all. I’m trying to save now. I’m trying to prepare myself as best I can, but there is no other preparation except experiencing it first-hand”.

At The Access Project, we support the young people on our programmes to access accurate information, to make complex decisions about their future and choose what is best for them.

In the coming weeks, we will be speaking to our in-school mentors about their experiences of supporting young people to navigate this challenging landscape and delving deeper into the links between the cost of living and university choices.

Stay tuned for more updates.

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