In January and February this year, we collaborated with students' unions across the UK to carry out research on students' experience with the cost of living. With almost 9,000 responses, our research is the largest study of student's cost of living to date. The feedback is extremely valuable and will help us ensure that your voices are heard on a national level.
So far this year, students' unions and universities have stepped up financial support, including investing tens of millions in additional hardship funding and other financial help. However, additional Government assistance is urgently needed.
The findings from our research are deeply concerning. Offering fresh insight into the struggles that you are facing, Russell Group Students’ Unions are now calling on the Government to:
- increase the student maintenance loans in line with inflation since 2020/21
- consider the reintroduction of maintenance grants to support the most disadvantaged students
- review the parental threshold for maximum loan support, which has been frozen since 2008 despite average earnings increasing significantly.
What we learnt about the UCL experience
The survey was available to all UCL students, and 2,247 of you shared your experiences with us.
- 97% of students are concerned about the crisis.
- “It is a constant source of stress”
- 75% of respondents agree that their mental health has suffered.
Throughout, students reported that the impact on their mental health is often exacerbated by financial concerns, balancing studying alongside part-time employment, and having to choose between affording necessities or socialising with peers. And it’s not just a small number of students facing these choices: 4 in 5 respondents have reduced the amount of socialising that they do, and more than half have stopped taking part in extra-curricular activities due to financial pressures. Given the role that socialising and extra-curricular activities play in personal development and sense of belonging, these findings are concerning.
“I regularly have to make up an excuse not to go out and eat with my friends since I am worried about spending money on things that are not essential, sometimes if I go, I sit with them I do not eat. […] I haven't joined any societies because I can't justify buying the membership fee, even though they are well priced for what they are.”
However, it’s not just social and mental wellbeing that are victims of the crisis; physical wellbeing has also seen a rapid decline, with 1 in 5 respondents regularly going without food or necessities because they cannot afford them and only 51% feeling confident that they have enough money to cover their basic cost of living. This lack of basic nutrition, warmth and stability has led to many students reporting negative, physical consequences.
“As someone with both a chronic illness and mental health issues the cost of living crisis has severely affected my academic life. I have been unable to join any clubs or societies which has left me feeling isolated. I have had to take on more hours of work despite my Illness to make ends meet and have very little time to do anything for myself.”
1 in 2 respondents agree that the crisis is negatively affecting their academic performance.
4 in 5 respondents agree that their general student experience has suffered.
For many students, their academic performance is another casualty of the crisis. Many students also reported not attending in-person teaching because they could not afford transportation costs, and not taking part in developmental opportunities such as conferences and field trips either due to a lack of funds, or because they have had no choice but to increase the number of hours they work to be able to afford necessities. With nearly 1 in 4 (23%) respondents who are in paid employment working more than 30 hours per week, students are being robbed of time for their studies. With full-time students expected to spend a minimum of 30 hours per week studying, something needs to give.
Students’ Union UCL Welfare and Community Officer, Umair Mehmood, said:
“We know how much of a struggle it has been to try to keep up with the rising cost of food, rent and travel, and the knock-on impact that has had on every aspect of your time studying here at UCL. The results from the survey do a really good job of capturing the very real impact that the cost of living crisis has had on students here at UCL.”
We found that only 1 in 3 students knew how to access advice or help regarding money and finances.
We have a significant package of support available
- Activities Participation Fund: Our Activities Participation Fund is here to help all students access activities to aid their personal development, avoid loneliness and isolation, and live a fulfilling student life whilst at UCL regardless of their financial circumstances. These grants can support students with society and club membership fees, travel expenses, specialist kit and equipment, and can also be used to help you access developmental opportunities for your studies, such as academic conferences.
- Sarah Douglas Hardship Fund: These grants are open to all students and can be awarded to assist with one-off urgent expenses and short-term financial shortfalls for finite periods. The fund is available if you are in financial need and have exhausted all other financial support options. Whilst we ask that you first apply to UCL's Financial Assistance Fund, you can apply to the SDHF if you have been unsuccessful or if you need further financial support.
- The SDHF also offers emergency grants. If you find yourself in urgent need, you can apply for an emergency grant. These are for a maximum of £150 and help with immediate urgent living expenses. Click here to hear from one of our students about her experience applying for an Emergency Grant.
- Gender Expression Fund: We have created the Gender Expression Fund to provide financial assistance for students who experience stress and anxiety at the disconnect they feel between their gender identity and appearance. Grants up to a maximum of £100 are available for purchasing gender affirming products or for travel to appointments.
- Cost of Living Hub: Here you can find advice and practical support from across UCL, all in one place. On the hub, there is a range of information from how to loan laptops, to how to access guidance about emergency accommodation and financial advice.
We understand that this is a stressful time for many of you. Please remember, the university's support services are ready to help you. You can and should reach out if you need help:
- Student Support and Wellbeing team are on hand to assist students affected by financial, or other, pressures.
- Students can contact Student Advisers for support with study matters, mental health, and wellbeing.
- Student Funding Advisors can help with money management and funding questions.
- You also have access to the UCL 24/7 Student Support Line for out of hours support, providing 24/7 support to students in the UK.