By Joseph Black, Co-Founder of UniTaskr
The current generation of students have had it far from easy. In the wake of lockdown restrictions during the pandemic, students were forced to quickly adapt to a new reality of hybrid and remote learning, seeing many of them locked away in halls of residence. Robbed of the traditional “university experience”, students now also face the grim reality of graduating into one of the worst cost-of-living crises the UK has ever seen.
The rising prices of food, rent, and energy, along with levels of inflation not seen in the last 30 years are taking a toll on nearly everyone, but this effect is more pronounced on students, who typically struggle to get by even during less financially challenging times.
The strain on students
This is evidenced by The National Student Accommodation Survey, conducted by Save the Student, which found that 58% of students have seen their energy bills go up due to the cost-of-living crisis, forcing them to cut back on shopping, socialising and eating out.
While it can be argued that eating out is not a necessity for university students, the same cannot be said for course materials and textbooks. Wales Online recently reported that nearly a quarter of the UK’s 2.5 million students currently studying at university cannot afford the books they need for their studies, with many considering dropping out of their courses as a direct result of these financial pressures.
These pressures do not stop at students, but also affect their families, too. Research from Unite Students found that financial anxiety is at incredibly high levels, with 73% of parents and 66% of students saying they are extremely worried about escalating costs, and 36% of parents reporting that they are struggling to support their children at university.
Balancing work with studies
It has long been accepted that part-time work is a normal part of the student experience, and one of the first steps undergraduates take towards financial independence while away studying. Securing part-time work while at university is certainly not a negative, and can indeed positively contribute to financial stability and general work and life experience. The issue arises, however, when students are forced to take on more work than they can reasonably handle alongside their studies.
Research commissioned by the National Union of Students uncovered a worrying trend of university students working increasingly longer hours in an attempt to make ends meet. 47% of students reported working up to 20 hours per week in additional to their full-time courses. Not only does this detract from academic commitments, but ultimately increases the stress students are experiencing at an already challenging time.
While students who are struggling financially will undoubtedly benefit from opportunities for work, they are of the most advantage when they complement, rather than detract from, their studies. Flexible work that fits around university commitments, as opposed to rigid shift patterns, are needed to mitigate the stress and burnout associated with juggling work and studying.
The mental toll
For our current generation of university students, their experience is one marked by pronounced pressures, which has resulted in issues around mental health and anxiety. Save the Student reports that can estimated 62% of students say their mental health has suffered as a result of the rising cost of living, with many not knowing how they will pay for necessities such as rent and food.
There is an unprecedented burden on students to find alternative income streams. For example, Unite Students found that 9% of students they spoke to admitted turning to gambling, 10% investing in often-unstable cryptocurrencies, and 8% signing up for medical trials, all in a bid to make extra cash. Students are also increasingly turning to commercial debt, with the National Union of Students reporting 31% relied on loans and overdrafts to cover their living costs.
Compounding this, students have less disposable income and purchasing power, meaning that for many, socialising and seeing friends is becoming less and less frequent. Mixed with remote and hybrid learning, students are more isolated than ever, further contributing to stress and poor mental wellbeing.
Supporting our students
University undergraduates are no strangers to budgeting and getting the most out of their money, but amidst soaring inflation rates, many are faced with the prospect of being unable to keep themselves financially afloat. Real support is needed for students, and the provision of opportunities for financial stability that do not take away from their ability to study and achieve academic success.
Brought to you by Joseph Black the co-founder of UniTaskr