University or housing? The cost of living dilemma facing students

Students, editing with Canva
Students, editing with Canva Copyright Canva
By Greta Ruffino
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Two in five students in the UK have considered dropping out of university due to the cost of rent, while 3% have already done so, according to a new National Student Accommodation Survey 2024 released by Save the Student.

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The survey, which asked over 1,000 students about their experiences managing housing costs at university, also revealed that 7% experienced homelessness during their studies. 

"The results of this year's survey are deeply concerning, and highlight how life in a cost of living crisis is at risk of becoming the new normal for students," Save the Student's Communications Director, Tom Allingham, said.

In January 2024, the government announced that Maintenance Loans in England would see a 2.5% increase for the 2024/25 academic year mirroring the 2.8% increase observed in 2023/24.

"This prolonging of the cost of living crisis is largely thanks to below-inflation increases to the Maintenance Loan in England," Allingham said.

"We're calling on the government to increase Maintenance Loans by well above 2.5% next year, to close the inflationary gap and ensure students can actually afford to cover everyday expenses like rent."

Costs and living conditions

For some students who successfully secure housing, the challenges persist. 

According to the survey, students who pay rent reported an average monthly cost of £550 (€643). For 20% of them, rent payments have been a continual challenge, while 44% stated they faced occasional struggles, indicating that nearly two-thirds are grappling with rent expenses at least periodically.

When the Maintenance Loan does not cover all student expenses, three out of five students said they borrowed money to pay rent. The main sources included parents, banks, friends, universities, credit cards, payday loans, or employers.

In total, 72% of students surveyed revealed that their health is affected by rental expenses – with 53% reporting it's somewhat affected and another 19% stating it's greatly affected.

Additionally, among those facing accommodation issues, 45% mentioned that their studies were impacted.

"It's a struggle to work full time just to be able to afford accommodation, food, and bills. It makes me suffer as a student and it's hard to continue on," a student in the survey said.

Besides rent costs and health struggles, many students are also facing ongoing difficulties with the accommodation they live in. 

Similar to findings from the previous year, dampness emerges as the most prevalent issue, affecting over a third (37%) of surveyed students. This is closely followed by reported shortages of water or heating (29%) and disruptions caused by ongoing construction work (18%).

Despite some instances where housing issues are resolved quickly within a few days, a notable 35% report delays of over a week in addressing their concerns.

When considering the future, some students perceive the housing situation as unlikely to improve over time.

The survey asked about students' expectations for future home ownership, with the median age mentioned being 30. 14% don't plan to buy a house ever, while 7% won't buy until age 40 or older, citing high property prices and post-graduation debt as reasons.

"The Maintenance Loan in England needs a revamp," Chair of the National Association of Student Money Advisers, Kellie McAlonan, said.

"Students can't be expected to plug the gap between basic living costs and the student funding they receive, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for institutions to shoulder the burden of a system that is not working."

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