The supporting role universities can play amid the cost of living crisis

The supporting role universities can play amid the cost of living crisis
We take a look at what universities are doing to help students during this tough time. Img Source: Joel Muniz/Unsplash

The current cost of living crisis is impacting everyone in the UK, and students are no exception.

A recent poll conducted by Savanta ComRes for Universities UK shows that as they start the autumn term at campuses across the UK, anxiety about the cost of living crisis is growing in the student population.

Two-thirds (67 percent) are concerned about managing their living costs this autumn. And over half of those polled are worried that this might prevent them from continuing their studies.

As students enter the winter months of university in the midst of a cost of living crisis, many are looking to their universities for extra support.

But how are Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) supporting students during the cost of living crisis?

Boosting financial aid

University hardship funds, as defined by Save the Student, are “emergency supplies of cash that universities give to students in financial difficulty.” In the toughest times, this financial aid has been an invaluable lifeline for students, but eligibility for it has been pretty strict.

Despite this, many universities are reassessing the assessment criteria for their hardship funds. Furthermore, The Guardian outlines that universities in England and Wales are doubling or even tripling their hardship funds in anticipation of “unprecedented” demand from students struggling with the cost of living and fears of widespread dropouts.

Despite the hardship funds in place, the Voucher Codes Student Value Report 2022 reveals that almost three-quarters of students say their university could do more to support them financially during the crisis.

As well as boosting financial support for students, many universities are ramping up help and advice around budgeting. Swansea University, for instance, has a student finance team to provide guidance and run budgeting workshops.

Mental health and well-being support

The impact of rising living costs is having a massive strain on students’ mental health. A survey from NUS in the summer found that 90 percent of students said the cost of living crisis affected their mental well-being. Given the already-estimated £340 gap between the average UK maintenance loan and living cost, it’s no surprise.

However, many universities are realising the need to provide extra emotional support during this time. Some are putting on additional counselling and support services, providing self-help materials for mental and emotional well-being, and working with student unions to understand how people are feeling and how they can better support them.

Students can seek help and advice from university wellbeing practitioners. Img source: Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

The University of Exeter has updated its website to include specific advice for students regarding wellbeing and the cost of living crisis. It includes useful links and resources to topics such as free CBT-based courses dedicated to financial worry and its impact and drop-in appointments with wellbeing practitioners.

Free food options

Shockingly, half of university students are already being forced to cut back on food spending. As a result, university unions say they are having to step in to help students cope. Free breakfasts, community kitchens, food pantries, and vouchers are among measures introduced in some cities, with others looking at expanding help.

At Swansea University, the student union has been trialling weekly free breakfasts including tea, coffee, toast, and croissants.

Queen Margaret University (QMU) first introduced its campus pantry in April 2020, to help students during the first coronavirus lockdown. It’s continued to open every Wednesday since.

As QMU Campus Pantry Vice President Vasilia Todorova tells the BBC:

"At first we were seeing about 20 students each week we were open but as of this term it's more like 35...

Students pay £2 a year to become a member and then £1 per visit. We offer tinned goods and fresh fruit and veg which is all donated through FairShare. We're just hopeful we're having an impact in helping students access quality food."

Energy bill support

Many people are dreading the bleak winter ahead due to rising energy prices, and students are no different. In order to support off-campus students keep up with payments, York University are distributing energy grants valued at £150 to 2,220 students. The move was a response to a poll where 60 percent of York’s students relayed their concerns about money.

The University of York’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Charlie Jeffery, said in an announcement:

“Even though energy prices are now capped, they will still be around twice the level of last year. Government support measures will have some impact, but many of our students face a very challenging situation.

Whilst many of our students are accommodated on campus, the Household Energy Grant is aimed at supporting those students who live off campus and who face considerable financial pressure as energy bills rise.”

Access to warm spaces and facilities

Universities are doing all they can to provide extra support to students through this scary time, the University of Nottingham is one of many UK examples.

Its Programme of Support for students highlights a range of helpful initiatives to help keep costs down. This includes kitchen access around campus, free shower facilities, heated study spaces in university buildings, and an increase in free period products.

Students are relying on university campuses to provide a warm space. Img source: Wander Fleur / Unsplash

But what about the large number of students who are struggling to even find accommodation? This is a crisis in itself, with news just last week that Durham University students were queuing overnight just to try to book a viewing.

Some universities are doing their best to try and support students with this rising problem. The University of Strathclyde, for instance, have a fund which provides anywhere between £300 - £500 on a case-to-case basis to meet immediate housing needs. The University of Bedfordshire offers beds and student advice for those requiring accommodation until an alternative solution can be found.

It’s a frightening time for students. University should be a period in their life where they are thriving, not just surviving. Whilst universities are doing their best to support students during this time, it’s clear more help at a higher level is needed.

Universities UK - the body representing 140 universities in the United Kingdom, has called for increased government help to support students struggling with the cost of living crisis.

If you’re a student struggling with the cost of living crisis, please do reach out to your university for help and advice. There are many ways you can be supported through this tough and testing time.



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