Opinion | At least we are all facing the cost of living crisis together - or are we?


By Marina Jones , English, Third Year

The spiralling cost of living crisis will exacerbate and shed a light upon the gross inequalities within our student body. Now is the time to face this disparity head on.

For many, the university experience involves three years of playing grown-ups; working hard, having fun, and making mistakes with the monopoly money of mum and dad’s generous weekly instalments.

However, many students at the University of Bristol do not have this luxury and are forced to face the precariousness of living on very little.

With inflation at its highest in 30 years, the dreaded weekly food shop is becoming a deeply sobering experience. The official consumer price index (CPI) rose to 5.4 per cent in December with warnings of further increases peaking at 6 per cent in April.

For those, like me, who zone out as soon as percentages and graphs enter the equation, Jack Monroe’s twitter thread helps put this into perspective.

The activist and food writer argues that these figures are only the tip of the iceberg and is campaigning for a more accurate index to present the dramatic rise in the cost of basic products.

Why are our maintenance loans stagnant?

So, with the prices of student kitchen essentials such as rice, pasta, and baked beans more than doubling in the last year - why are our maintenance loans stagnant?

With landlords shamelessly increasing the rent year after year, in what is already one of the most expensive student cities in the UK, we must think of the impact on our students.

The National Student Money Survey 2021 revealed that:

- Each month, the average student’s Maintenance Loan is £340 less than their living costs.

- Just over three quarters of students struggle to make ends meet

- The proportions of students saying that money worries have affected their diet, social life, grades, relationships, mental health and/or sleep has increased in each category compared to the last year.

These findings are shocking, especially when we consider the consequences that covid restrictions and online learning has had on the mental health of students nationwide. The added stress of making ends meet seems like a kick in the teeth.

Higher education does not act as some magical leveller

Perhaps it would feel more manageable if there was a sense that we were all in it together – but the reality is that we’re not.

It’s old news that Bristol University is an incredibly privileged institution, and that higher education does not act as some magical leveller.

Obtaining a place here to begin with can be a completely different accomplishment based on socioeconomic factors. Private education, for starters, is a distant world from the standard of education at underfunded local comprehensives.

It’s important to also consider other factors that make getting into university just that little bit smoother. Examples of these include private tutors, music lessons, holidays, two educated parents in the household, a desk to do homework, your own room and even just having books in the family home.

the University has pushed access initiatives that aim to increase the intake of state educated pupils

This is not to undermine the achievements of students from upper middle-class backgrounds, but we must acknowledge what is taken for granted.

Thankfully, over the last few years, the University has pushed access initiatives that aim to increase the intake of state educated pupils. In fact, as a former recipient of free school meals, I qualify for the bursary and maximum maintenance loan, which has allowed me to have a fulfilling university experience that otherwise would have been very difficult.

Furthermore, The 93% Club has done some amazing work in spreading awareness on the disparity between the meagre 7% of privately educated pupils nationwide, compared with almost a third here at Bristol.

Despite all of this, as I look out into the looming graduate wasteland, I cannot help but feel disheartened as yet another acquaintance reveals that their dad just happens to own an empty flat in central London - where they can live rent free after graduating.

Featured image: Unsplash | Mattieu Stern

Should student loans be increased in line with inflation? How should the University address the inequalities within our student community? Let us know @EpigramOpinion !