Off to Uni? Students Face Struggle to Cope with Cost of Living Crisis
Many students are facing a cost of living crisis. Student maintenance loans don’t match up to expected costs of living, and prices continue to rise. With the start of the academic year approaching, what can students do to contend with the cost of living crisis?
As we’ve seen in recent months, the cost of living is rising and the crisis is wreaking havoc on people’s lives.
What’s more, nine in 10 adults in Great Britain (91%) reported that the cost of living had gone up in the last two weeks of August, according to data on social trends from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), so the strain on finances may yet get even worse.
Students are no exception. A total of 64% of students thought that their loan did not cover their energy bills, according to a survey conducted in June 2022 by the National Union of Students (NUS).
According to an NUS spokesperson, students are at “breaking point”, and “no amount of budgeting and saving is going to stop students from falling into poverty this autumn”.
Full-time students in England are entitled to maintenance loans – offered on a sliding scale, based on household income. However, with the risk of maintenance loans falling short of covering climbing essential costs, there is concern for those studying across the UK.
With many students changing their lifestyles to make their money go further, it’s worth asking: is it possible to live on a student loan in today’s financial climate?
How far can a maintenance loan stretch?
Most students are changing their everyday spending habits due to the cost of living crisis, according to the NatWest Student Living Index 2022. A total of 88% are reducing how much they spend, with 26% saying that they’ve even resorted to eating fewer meals in order to keep within their budgets.
Cardiff is the most affordable city for students in the UK this year, according to NatWest. But how much will a student maintenance loan actually cover?
Cardiff University estimates that it could cost £9,223.44 to be a UK or EU undergrad staying in halls in the 2022/23 academic year. That figure includes rent, bills, food, books, your phone bill – as well as travel and socialising – over a 39-week period.
As a student from England studying full-time in Wales, you could be entitled to up to £9,706, leaving you with just £482.56 at the end of the academic year – or just over £53 a month after expenses – assuming you’re in Cardiff for 39 weeks.
However, Cardiff University’s estimates are only based on a 39-week period, in halls. If you lived in Cardiff over university vacations, you would need to consider the costs of additional weeks – and that could quickly stretch beyond the limits of your maintenance loan.
For example, if you live in privately rented accommodation in your second or final year, you will likely have to pay rent for the full 52 weeks of the year, so you could find yourself spending more.
If the situation looks bleak in Cardiff, it’s easy to imagine the struggles students may face in more expensive cities such as London.
What’s more, if you receive less than the full amount of maintenance support, you may fall short of the estimated funding altogether, wherever you study in the UK. If you can’t find a part-time job or get help from family, you’re likely to find yourself at a loose end financially.
Nowhere to turn?
So, as a student concerned with the affordability of study in the year (or years) ahead, what can you do to weather the oncoming storm?
One major worry is the cost of energy. Though you can’t change the price of energy, there are ways to cut back on your energy usage to try to limit how much you have to spend on it.
In particular, if your bills aren’t included in your rent, you should keep a close eye on them to make sure they’re accurate. “Submit regular meter readings to keep on top of costs,” suggests Jake Butler, chief operating officer at student money website Save the Student.
It’s also important to make a student budget – and stick to it.
“It may sound boring, but setting a budget is the number one thing you should do if you’re looking to survive financially at uni,” says Butler. “If you don’t have a handle on where your money is going out or coming in, then you can’t make the changes you need to stay afloat financially.”
Additionally, it’s worth looking into any bursaries and scholarships offered by your university. There may be funding available based on academic achievement, or a hardship fund you can apply for if you’re in serious financial difficulty.
The NUS has called for an increase in maintenance funding for students, as well as measures to control the rising cost of rent and energy. But, either way, there could be a difficult time ahead for students, regardless of their budgeting prowess or university support package.
Image source: Getty Images
Kristina is a writer at NerdWallet. A recent graduate trading French for finance, she has experience creating content for student newspaper Cherwell and an edtech company. Read more