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'Students risk becoming the forgotten group' in the UK recession

With an economic recession predicted for 2023, university leaders have voiced their concerns about how inflation will affect students.

By Sophie Brassey, Third Year Philosophy

As the economic recession continues into 2023, university leaders voice their concerns about how inflation will affect students. Professor Steve West CBE, Vice Chancellor of UWE, worries that ‘students risk becoming the forgotten group in the cost of living crisis.’

For 2022/2023, maintenance loans were determined based on a forecasted inflation rate of 2.3 per cent. However, by November 2022, inflation had reached 11.1 per cent. This meant that by the end of 2022, maximum loan values had already decreased by 7.2 per cent.

This is the lowest maintenance loans have been in seven years, with students from low-income families losing up to £100 per month.

On the 11th of January, Robert Halfon, Minister of State for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, announced a financial package to help students tackle the cost of living crisis. The maximum level of tuition fees will be frozen at £9,250 for the 2023/24 academic year in an attempt to keep the cost of higher education down. The minister also announced that £15 million would be added to this year's student premium, in an effort to aid the most vulnerable students.

However, there are still growing concerns that this government has not responded adequately to the cost of living crisis. The Chief Executive of Universities UK, Viviene Stern, has argued that the package does not make up for the ‘real terms cut to maintenance that students have experienced.’ Likewise, Tim Bradshaw, Russell Group Chief Executive, has called the government response ‘disappointing.’

This reaction is familiar, given the national uproar over the government’s response to inflation. Citizens across the UK have felt unprotected by their government during the cost of living crisis, and students are no exception. The freeze in tuition fees, which had already been announced last February, does not help with the current issues regarding maintenance loans, which may be insufficient for many to withstand the rising cost of living.

Speaking to Epigram, students at the University of Bristol echoed the disappointment felt by university leaders. A third-year Medicine student said that her rent for next year has gone up by £50 per month: ‘The number of houses offering bills included has gone down significantly […] It’s practically impossible to find one in Bristol.’

She also noted that, despite working part-time alongside her studies, she is still struggling to make ends meet: ‘Doing extra shifts and getting extra work is having less of an impact.’ This demonstrates that the rise in the cost of heating and rent has made it much more difficult for students to access the increasingly unstable housing market.

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The recent announcement by Robert Halfon has not assured many of the students attending the University of Bristol with one, in particular, believing that freezing payments is ‘Just a drop in the bucket for what they need to do.’ She believed that to respond adequately ‘They need to increase wages dramatically, starting with the public sector.’

Frustration is felt not only by students themselves, but on behalf of everyone struggling with the cost of living crisis this winter, and it is clear that the response from the government has not done enough to protect those students struggling to keep up with rising prices.

Featured Image: James F Clay / Flickr

Full details regarding the student support package for 2023/2024 can be accessed here.