Student walking in library

The cost of living crisis leaves university students feeling hopeless

The reality of the rising cost of living in London has left many students feeling hopeless as they attend university.

With inflation soaring in the last two years, the prices of groceries, travel and rent have risen massively and wages and student funding have struggled to keep up.

Although the rising cost of living is a national conversation, the catastrophic impact of the issue, specifically on students, is one to take great note of.

Tom Allingham, the communications director of Save The Students said: “This is the most concerned we have ever been about the financial landscape facing students.

“Having to find the best part of £7,000 every year just to break even is a huge ask, and it’s putting unprecedented strain on today’s student population.”

The 2023 National Student Money Survey conducted by Save The Student found that the maintenance loan from SFE at this moment falls short of living costs by £582 every month, which has risen up from £439 since 2022, and double from what it was in 2020. 

Students in London face the nation’s highest living costs by far, at an astonishing £1,211 per month according to the 2023 National Student Money Survey.

One of the highest living costs for students in London is the cost of rent

The figure above shows the rise in rental costs in the UK at an annual rate from January to July and from July to January.

The problems students are facing with rising rent are not surprising to say the least, as the average rental prices in the whole of UK has been rising exponentially since 2021 as indicated by the figure above.

The levels of percentage increase in rent in 2023 (with the latest figure of 6.2% as of November 2023) has gone beyond the previously high levels of 2.6% in January 2016.

This has resulted in some students deciding to live outside of London, live on the outskirts of London, or live with their parents while attending University in London.

A commuter student at University College London (UCL),  who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I decided to live with my parents and it really did help me to not spend extortionately on rent, but I feel like I’ve lost out on integral uni-life and social experiences.”

Amongst home students, international students are also facing the brunt of the London renting crisis, where they have the added stress of having a guarantor, whilst balancing minimal contracted hours of work for their visa conditions.

International student at Brunel University, Prasad Patil, 23, said: “I have suffered a lot to get an accomodation here in the first place.

“There is a lot of demand and I would often get rejected from leasings because I was struggling to find a guarantor in the UK.”

Unless international students have a UK guarantor, they would have to pay months of rent upfront, which many struggle with in London universities.

The national student money survey indicates that 71% of students have considered dropping out of University with the more than half citing mental health and/or money problems.

The bar chart below demonstrates the reasons for students dropping out in percentage terms.

Final year law student, Chenika Amoah, 21, commutes from Canning Town every day to make it to her lectures at Brunel University. 

She said: “With the tightness of university timetables, it doesn’t really allow you to have a proper job. You’re stuck with part-time jobs, and part time is really not enough to sustain.

“I just think that it’s unfair and it just puts more pressure on students who don’t come from an economically rich background. It puts so much pressure and you might find that some students unfortunately drop out. “

Regardless of the drop-out rates, many London-based universities are hard at work making sure that students are coping better during hard times.

According to Allingham, lots of universities have taken positive steps during the cost of living, including offering warm spaces, free access to microwaves and showers, and widening access to their hardship funds.

Allingham said: “Where possible, if a university hasn’t already taken these measures, we’d strongly encourage them to.

“Over the summer, paid student interns conducted a research project on the cost of living to identify more ways we can help students, including running focus groups. The results of that research are being finalised.”

The Student Union and wellbeing teams at King’s College London (KCL), have been hard at work to make things fair for disadvantaged students.

The President of the KCL Student Union, Steven Suresh, has addressed the issue of London student renting directly into his campaign.

He said: “I have made a promise to work closely with the university to make sure that students, especially international students, can stay in London while studying. I have campaigned to push forward a rent guarantor scheme, where the university would act as the UK guarantor for international students.”

This would mean that international students would not have to pay months of rent up front to their landlords and can name King’s College London as their guarantor.

Brunel University also offers a University Hardship Fund to students with a cost-of-living fast-track application and also has a Student Support and Welfare team helps students with their concerns about money.

The cost of living crisis has also had a huge impact on affording food and groceries, with the rising cost of food. 

According to the Office for National Statistics (2023), over four in ten adults are spending more than usual to get their food shopping.

The scatter graph below illustrates the trends in the increase of price in groceries in UK in percentage terms.

The price of groceries have increased dramatically between October 2021 (with an 18% increase) to September 2022 (with a 52% increase), upon which the percentage of price increase remains more or less in a similar ballpark with many fluctuations.

The latest figure for percentage increase in grocery prices remain at 38%, which although is a much better lower percentage increase than the autumn of 2023, there is still as a huge disparity when comparing the level of grocery prices between 2021 and 2023. 

This level of increase would not only impact people all over the UK but also University students who may have tight budgets.

A Brunel University spokesperson said: “The rising cost of food can be challenging, so starting from the last academic year we have offered free porridge for breakfast, free fruit Fridays, 60% off selected meals each week and free exam-day lunches to all students.”

As inflation and interest rates have started to ease up, where rates are looking somewhat better than 2022 and early 2023, only time will tell if the university experience for students improve in the city moving forward.

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