As the cost-of-living crisis continues in the UK, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that pressures on students are only likely to increase in the new academic year, and will impact accommodation decisions.

Increasing pressure

In February 2023, an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey found that 91% of students were either somewhat or very worried about the rising cost of living and that 49% were experiencing financial difficulties. Similarly, the Global Student Living Index 2023 Q2 results revealed that the number of students who said they were struggling with budgeting and having enough money to get by had increased from the same period last year.

Making ends meet

The number of students reporting to the ONS in February that they had taken on new debt to make ends meet had risen by 5% from November 2022 when the survey was originally undertaken.

An Office for Students (OfS) survey of 4,021 students similarly found that 24% of postgraduates and 13% of undergraduates had considered dropping out of university due to rising costs of living, and 43% had cut back on spending on food shopping over the last six months.

Part-time work is increasingly important for students, with many juggling multiple part-time jobs or taking on increased hours. Finding part-time work is a bigger stressor for students this year than it has been previously, with 37% of GSL Index 2023 Q2 respondents reporting that they were struggling to find part-time work, an increase of 5% from the same period last year.

Availability of part-time work is equally important for international students, with 31% of international students surveyed by IDP saying that part time work will be the main source of funding their studies whilst abroad, and 71% of students indicating they want help from their institution in finding part-time work.

Behaviour changes

Students are increasingly changing their attendance patterns to manage living costs, and some have considered abandoning their studies completely. Twenty-eight per cent of students surveyed by ONS reported they choose to travel to university less frequently, while 25% said they attend lectures remotely where possible to save money. A Sutton Trust survey conducted earlier this year found that 49% of students have also skipped classes to undertake paid work.

Accommodation choices

Rent is one of the most significant expenses for students, and there is growing evidence that cost-of-living pressures are beginning to impact accommodation decisions. Each wave the GSL Index asks students which aspects of their accommodation they would trade up or down in return for increased or decreased rent. However, in the 2023 Q2 wave, there were fewer students who said they would improve aspects of their accommodation for increased rent and more who were happy to keep things the same.

While at the time of the Q2 GSL Index survey, cost-of-living pressures did not yet appear to be impacting students’ willingness to invest in the long-term benefits of a positive accommodation experience, other sector research suggests that we might be reaching a tipping point, with evidence that financial pressures are influencing accommodation decisions for domestic students this academic year.

According to a University College London and Sutton Trust report, before the pandemic around 20% of first-year undergraduates in England lived at home while studying. However, up to 34% of 18-year-old school-leavers may choose to live at home this academic year and commute if accepted by their first-choice university – for nearly one in five students, this is driven by affordability concerns. UCAS research similarly suggests that more students will opt to live at home than in previous years.

Increasing student awareness key

While many universities have implemented measures to help alleviate the impact of cost-of-living increases, the OfS survey highlights that not all students are aware of these, with students from minority ethnic backgrounds less likely to be aware of available supports than others.

Ensuring that communications with students highlight the availability of any support to find part-time work, the availability of any support to alleviate cost-of-living pressures, and clear information about costs and inclusions to support students in their accommodation decision-making is likely to be key for both university and private accommodation providers.