Students facing poverty as cost of living crisis hits studies, new research shows

13 March 2023

1 in 4 students regularly go without food and other necessities because they cannot afford them, rising to over 3 in 10 for students from the most socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds (measured by household income and parental education levels), new research has found. The survey of 8,800 university students carried out by Russell Group Students’ Unions is the largest study on financial pressures currently facing students to date.

The survey found that students are living on average just £2 per week over the destitution line in the UK. Students report the increasing burden of having to increase part-time employment hours to cover basic costs with 17% of respondents in paid employment working more than 30 hours a week alongside their studies, as well as difficulties concentrating due to poor nourishment and financial stress. Others are skipping on-campus lectures because they cannot afford travel costs.

The findings show that financial pressures are affecting students' studies, with over half (54%) of students reporting their academic performance has suffered because of the crisis and 18% considering dropping out due to financial reasons, in contrast to traditionally very high continuation rates at our universities. The burden of the cost-of-living crisis is felt most strongly by students from marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds, with students who are estranged or care experienced, those with caring responsibilities, disabled students and part-time students the most likely to report that they have considered leaving university.

In response to the rising cost of living, Russell Group universities are stepping up support for students, including investing tens of millions in additional hardship funding and other financial help, as well as a range of other measures such as providing subsidised food and extending access to campus facilities. However, additional Government assistance is urgently needed to address the growing financial pressure on students.

In light of this research, the Russell Group and Russell Group Students’ Unions are calling on the Government to increase student maintenance loans in line with inflation since 2020/21, consider the reintroduction of maintenance grants to support the most disadvantaged students, and to review the parental threshold for maximum loan support, which has been frozen since 2008 despite average earnings increasing significantly.

Commenting, Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: "This student-led survey – the largest of its kind on the cost-of-living crisis – lays bare the very real impacts that growing financial pressures are having on university students across the country right now. As well as affecting their day-to-day finances, rising costs are having knock on effects on students’ wellbeing and their studies, with a worrying number considering dropping out of their courses. Unfortunately, we know the pressure on students will only increase next year as rates of inflation and food inflation in particular remain high, while maintenance loans in England will rise by just 2.8%.

"Our universities are investing millions in extra financial assistance and support services for students, alongside a range of measures on campus to help with day-to-day living costs. However, the scale of the issue requires urgent additional help from Government. As an immediate step, we urge the Chancellor in his upcoming Budget to address flaws in the maintenance loans system and uplift loans so they reflect actual inflation since 2020/21." 

Commenting, Charlie Sellar, an Elected Student Officer from Russell Group Students’ Unions, said: "Students have been forgotten in the cost-of-living crisis. Our survey, representing thousands of students across the Russell Group, highlights the urgent need for government intervention. The impact on students’ mental health, their academic performance and their physical health is widespread and confirms what we have been hearing from students directly as their elected representatives.

"Without intervention our higher education sector risks pricing out disadvantaged students entirely; many students will be at risk of dropping out, and it is a real concern that prospective students will be watching our students being left behind by government in vulnerable positions with limited access to support and decide that university is not for them.

"We are calling for the government to increase student maintenance loans in line with inflation, reintroduce maintenance grants, and to review the parental threshold for maximum loan support. Talented and passionate students should not be shut out of higher education just because they are from lower income or disadvantaged backgrounds."


The research cited above was carried out by Russell Group Students’ Unions, comprising of a survey with a sample of 8,800 students across 14 Russell Group universities carried out between January and February 2023. Results reported above are weighted to adjust for an over-representation of students studying in London within the sample. The full report can be accessed at

Russell Group Students’ Unions represent over 700,000 students at the universities that form the Russell Group. Russell Group Students’ Unions work together to ensure the student experience reflects their universities’ world-class reputation.

Russell Group analysis shows that the DfE decision to uprate maintenance loans in England by just 2.8% for 2023/24 means a full-time student living away from home outside London will receive £9,978, leaving them £1,523 short of the £11,501 the loan would be had it increased by actual inflation since 2020/21.

The lower parental earnings threshold – below which students are eligible for the maximum level of maintenance support – has been frozen in nominal terms at £25,000 since 2008, even as average earnings have risen significantly. In December 2022 the IFS reported that had the parental threshold increased with earnings this would be closer to £35,000.

Average continuation rates for full-time first-degree undergraduates across English Russell Group universities are 96%.

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