The Cost of Living Crisis: Emerging Lessons

April 25, 2023

On April 24 2023, AccessHE brought people together from across our member higher education institutions to discuss the lessons that are emerging for universities and others in the sector from the cost of living crisis so far. The cost of living crisis has been one of the biggest news stories of the last year, affecting people of all walks of life up and down the country, and having particularly worrying impacts on the student population and Londoners. Following our first group discussion on this subject last autumn, we invited staff from around our membership to come together and share what they have learned from their research and practice during the crisis so far. As part of this ongoing conversation about student financial need in London, we hope this will help all AccessHE member institutions offer the best support they can.

At the online event we began with some scene-setting background information from AccessHE’s Emily Dixon, looking at the types of support students have indicated to the Office for Students they are needing to ask for from their parents and families, and asking what the implications of this might be for the many students who are not able to rely on their families for help.

James Ballard of Unite Students joined us to share some data and support initiatives specific to the accommodation situation in London. Student accommodation in London has been under more pressure than anywhere else in the UK even before the crisis, so this is a major focus of support needs for institutions and accommodation providers. James discussed the importance of all-inclusive accommodation prices sheltering students from variations in bills, and a new pilot scheme with Aldi providing food vouchers for students.

We were also joined by Danielle Bradford and Simon To of UCL Students’ Union to share some information from their work alongside the Russell Group Students’ Unions and the National Cost of Living Survey. They presented some important and sobering data from polling conducted in January and February 2023, such as students being on left with only £50 per month on average after paying essential costs, and nearly 70% of students with a household income of £25,000 or less indicating their academic performance had suffered as a consequence of the cost of living. More detail on this is in the full report on student cost of living from Russell Group Students’ Unions.

Discussion among the attendees following these presentations considered issues of student engagement and sense of belonging for students with so many incentives to stay away from campus or drop out altogether, as well as the many issues that come with the necessity of students doing more and more paid work alongside their studies to make ends meet. This lively and wide-ranging conversation will continue at AccessHE and among our members as we continue to work to support institutions and students with studying during the cost of living crisis. Over the next few weeks, our Mature & Part Time Students’ Forum will be meeting to discuss how the Lifelong Loan Entitlement will change the higher education study landscape for mature learners, and the Racial Equity Forum will look at the intersection between the needs of students of colour and commuter students, both groups we know have been disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis.

If anyone would like to get in touch with questions about any of this work, please do feel free to email to continue this conversation.