How prospective undergraduates feel about the cost of living crisis

cost of living worries

92% of prospective undergraduates are concerned about the rising cost of living, according to our September survey

The Student Room surveyed 642 prospective undergraduates (2023/2024 entry) and found that nearly all of them were worried about rising living costs. Three-quarters believed that the cost of living was a concern for their parents.

We asked respondents to use one word to describe how they feel about this issue and the answers paint a bleak picture:

47% are now more worried about the cost of living than university tuition fees.

Heartbreakingly, nearly half of the students we surveyed were worried that going to university would impact their families financially. 30% said they believe their parents are worried about university costs, and a quarter were worried because their parents are either not able or not willing to help with the cost of living at university.

This is significant, since there is still an ‘implicit expectation’ of parental contribution built into the maintenance loan system.

Inflation could also prove a problem for widening participation recruitment objectives, since families on lower incomes are disproportionately impacted by rising costs.

In this Guardian article, Steve West of Universities UK raised the issue that the maximum available maintenance loan falls £1,000 short of what a student would earn on the national minimum wage.

How this might impact university choice

For 47% of respondents, the last 12 months has made them more likely to change their university plans.

On results day this year, traffic to our apprenticeships and alternatives to university forum saw YoY growth of 26%, so we are already seeing that cost of living worries could be driving applicants to other pathways.

We asked respondents whether their parents or carers were influencing their decision-making and many told us that they had been encouraged to study closer to home or in cheaper areas. 12% said their parents wanted them to defer or not attend university at all.

So what else is likely to change?

Location and accommodation choices

Although almost half of the respondents were concerned about choosing a university in a high cost of living area, only 14% said they would prioritise finding a university in a cheaper location.

However, 56% are more likely to choose a cheaper accommodation option, compared with the plans they had this time last year.

We may also see a shift in the proportion of students staying local  – 33% said they were more likely to live at home and commute to university, and 40% were more likely to choose a university that’s close to home. This could be exacerbated by horror stories in the media about students being forced to live in neighbouring cities because there aren’t enough rooms available near their university.

commute to university

Funding their studies

A high proportion of students (43%) were worried about whether they could afford to go to university, and more than half (58%) wanted universities to provide more information about bursary and scholarship eligibility.

Despite a high level of interest in funding schemes, the survey found a quarter of respondents did not know how to find out what funding is available to them.

The perception among many students was that they may not be eligible for a bursary or scholarship (41%),  yet 37% said they were planning to look for universities that offer them.

What students need from universities

We asked students what support they needed from universities in recognition of rising costs. The top responses were:

Include course essentials (uniforms, equipment etc) in tuition fees – 72%
Be upfront about any additional course costs (software, trips etc) – 70%
Help them find part time jobs or paid opportunities at university – 69%
Be upfront about other costs (utilities, societies etc) – 68%
Provide budgeting and cost-cutting information – 65%

One common theme here is that students want to avoid unexpected costs, so universities will do well to be as transparent and realistic as possible about what students are expected to pay.

Prospective undergraduates will also need more support with managing costs and supplementing their income, and they will be looking to universities to help with this.

Want to know more about this research?

Download cost of living insights here

Get in touch:
0800 999 3222

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*TSR Asks: How prospective 2023 and 2024 undergraduates feel about the cost of living.
Omnibus survey of prospective 2023 and 2024 entry undergraduates, Base: 642, 3 – 5 September 2022
Find out how you can include your questions in future TSR Asks surveys