Half of students in England are struggling with financial difficulties, with a quarter taking on additional debts and three in 10 skipping lectures and tutorials in order to cut costs, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics.
More than nine in 10 students (91%) who took part in the survey said they were worried about the cost of living, and 45% said their mental health had deteriorated as a result during the autumn term.
Amid warnings that students risk becoming forgotten victims of the cost of living crisis, nearly one in five of those surveyed said they had considered pausing their degree until next year.
Almost two-thirds (62%) have cut back on food shopping, nearly two in five (38%) have reduced their use of gas and electricity to keep costs down, and more than half (52%) have had to rely on savings to get by.
More than three-quarters (77%) said they were worried the crisis would affect how well they did in their degree. Four in 10 (40%) said they were studying more at home to save on costs rather than going to campus, and one in five (21%) were attending lectures remotely where possible.
Tim Gibbs, of the ONS, said: “In common with most adults we have surveyed, these findings show that most students in higher education are experiencing the impact of cost of living increases. However, for some this may also be impacting on their educational experience, with some cutting back on non-mandatory aspects of their course to save money and considering other options, such as suspending their studies.”
The survey, which attracted 4,201 responses from mainly undergraduates at a range of universities in England, found 29% were choosing not to attend non-mandatory lectures and tutorials to save on costs, while 31% were avoiding field trips and conferences to keep costs down.
Nearly one in five (18%) students said they had considered moving back to their family home and commuting to their university from there, and 6% were planning to do so. Although 19% of students said they had considered suspending their studies and resuming next year, only 1% were actively planning to do so.
Similarly, 19% had considered switching from classroom-based to remote learning, but only 2% were planning to do so. The cost of living crisis is also shaping future plans, with more than a third (34%) now less likely to do further study after completing their course.
Of the one in four students who reported taking on new debt in response to the rising cost of living – either by borrowing more or using additional credit – two-thirds (66%) said their student loan was not enough to live on.
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Asked whether they would be able to ask a family member for money, almost half (48%) said they could not. Many universities have offered financial assistance to students worst affected by the cost of living crisis, but only 16% of those surveyed had applied for bursaries, 7% had applied for money from their university hardship funds, and 5% for other financial support.
Prof Steve West, the president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of UWE Bristol, said: “Students risk becoming the forgotten group in the cost of living crisis. We need the government to work with us and provide targeted hardship funding to protect them now, before their living costs become so high that they are unable to keep studying.
“If this were to happen it is a tragic loss of talent to the country and a personal loss which crushes hope, opportunity, potential and social mobility. We cannot afford to let that happen.”
A separate report from Endsleigh’s student assistance programme, a service providing 24/7 support for students, said calls from students seeking financial support had increased by 39%, while calls relating to student housing were up 46%. Endsleigh said there had been a 70% increase in calls from students seeking support for depression.
A Department for Education spokesperson said the government was providing £261m of hardship support in 2022-23 for students in greatest need, adding: “Many universities are doing fantastic work to support their students through a variety of programmes. We urge any student who is worried about their circumstances to speak to their university.”