By Lia Jones, Second Year, Politics and Sociology
In the wake of a cost-of-living crisis in Britain seeing rent, energy bills and living expenses at an all-time high, more and more students, across all levels of study, are faced with no other choice but to take on part-time employment to support themselves alongside their full-time education.
Research from Student Beans in 2019 uncovered that more than a third (36%) of university students in the UK had a part-time job alongside their studies, as well as a staggering 21% revealing that they had two jobs during term time. Compared to 2021, this figure has almost doubled, with the Student Money Survey revealing that 66% of the university students surveyed had part-time jobs, which can only be expected to increase this academic year as the cost-of-living crisis reaches new heights.
This phenomenon stands as a critique of the current student loan systems in the UK and begs the question of whether they are adequately fulfilling their intended role. Using figures from Student Finance England as the focus here, the maximum maintenance loan, being the loan given to cover students’ living costs, for the 2022/23 academic year (outside of London), stands at £9,706. Despite this, findings from the Student Money Survey show that the average cost of living for students is more like £9,720 per annum.
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like such a wild discrepancy, however, only a very small minority of students whose parents’ household income is below £25,000 are actually eligible for the maximum maintenance loan. This means that your parents’ salaries, dictate how much the government will lend you for your living costs at university, decreasing incrementally all the way to £3,597, the more your parents earn. Not only does this system ignore the possibility that some may be unwilling to fund their child’s further education, but effectively takes the decision out of the hands of prospective university students and puts it in the hands of their parents or guardians.
Furthermore, this system does not account for the vastly different costs of living in different areas of the UK. Bristol, for example, has an extortionate cost of living, akin to London, and has been named the second most expensive city to reside in the UK, which is not taken into account by the student loan system at all. Last year, my student accommodation alone cost £8,358 for the year, which meant that I had no choice but to take up part-time employment to keep myself afloat.
The private sector is even less affordable going into my second year, where I will be paying about the same for my rent and utility bills. However, in comparison to my peers at Cardiff University, their rent was half the price of mine, paying on average £4,000 per annum for their halls of residence and similarly going into private rentals.
Not only are the student loan systems failing to compensate students for the increasing cost of living, but they also fail to consider regional cost differences between different areas of study. Therefore, some students like myself who attend university in expensive cities are expected to live on the same amount of money as those who live in places with half the cost of living.
But what does this mean for students? Adopting a part-time job to support an already full-time undergraduate or post-graduate course inevitably does not align with the best academic interests of students. The unfortunate reality of the situation for many is a trade-off between academic performance and making ends meet. All of this has a knock-on effect on academic performance. 74% of students reported that working alongside their studies had a detrimental impact on their grades whilst at university, for reasons such as having to reprioritise their work and studies to be able to afford to pay their living expenses, detracting time from their degrees.
Whilst our generation can be considered privileged compared to our graduate predecessors for having government loan systems in place to enable our further education, it is evident that maintenance loans simply do not stretch far enough. Therefore, it is clear that reform in student finance systems is imperative to give students from all socio-economic backgrounds the opportunities they deserve to reach their full academic potential.
They ought to consider the ever-inflating cost of living nationwide, as well as pay particular attention to accommodating the varying costs of living across different places of study. As they offer a greater maintenance loan to students living in London to cover living costs, they ought to consider implementing similar measures across the country to accommodate students living in more or less expensive university towns or cities. This will hopefully work to ensure that all prospective university students are able to attend the university of their choice, without having to compromise their grades.
Featured Image: Epigram