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Fifty ways in which universities have been getting the costs of study down

Jim Dickinson highlights a whole range of measures that universities have been taking to reduce the cost of being a student in the UK
This article is more than 1 year old

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

Great news folks. As well as putting extra money into bursaries and hardship funds, lots of universities have been trying to get the cost of being a student down.

It’s long been important to try to do so – the way in which the cost of things sets “norms” on campus that the occasional handout can’t really fix matters for inclusion. So I’m hoping that we can find a way to sustain some of the progress made in recent weeks on considering just how expensive it’s become to be a student.

I won’t underestimate just how difficult this has been in some cases. Plenty of universities are closer to the edge on financial sustainability than some in the sector (quoting aggregate positions) suggest – and with the crisis set to last for a long time, plenty of Finance Directors are chewing nails about commitments that might need to last for a few years yet.

Where universities (or their partners) levy charges on students, it is especially difficult to renegotiate or subsidise existing deals with caterers, graduation gown firms or housing providers. There is a looming problem particularly with off-balance sheet student accommodation partnerships where there is an inflationary rent ratchet that folks will need to get creative about pretty fast.

Having a sustained plan to wean the university off from the profit generated by students paying for things – either directly or through partners – is going to make lots of strategic sense, and will save pain later.

So far the winter has been pretty mild – but there are potentially much harder months to come. Focussing on food feels important given where the inflation figures have been – and focussing on warmth is almost certainly the right thing to do in the coming weeks.

And of course, the “low hanging fruit” of the initiatives of the last few months is arguably the easy bit. Revisiting that 101 list and considering how to sustain reductions in the cost of participation is going to be important – probably even more important – than sustaining that hardship fund figure that folks have been press releasing.

One thing that would help is the Department for Education (and the Welsh Government) publishing what they must by now have on their desk – the results of the Student Income Expenditure Survey.  We might reasonably assume that it hasn’t out of embarrassment around the inadequacy of its maintenance package – but not having those figures is stopping the sector from identifying more ways in which costs could be controlled or reduced.

Before press offices pile in – this does not purport to be a comprehensive list, and I know that the universities mentioned here are almost all doing more than the things I’ve picked out. But I thought it would be useful to see a selection of the efforts that folks have been making to alleviate a crisis that continues to bite. And if your university is doing something innovative and different that isn’t on this list, do comment below and we’ll incorporate the idea into the list.

  1. At Leeds Beckett, VC Peter Slee has asked all Deans to review unavoidable additional course costs on the programmes they oversee.
  2. At Newcastle University, adverse impacts on a student’s studies due to the Cost of Living Crisis will be taken into account in academic regs on adjustments and extensions.
  3. At Edinburgh’s students’ association, there are free “Heat and Eat” stations so students can prepare food at home but still enjoy a hot meal whilst on campus.
  4. In September, Buckinghamshire New University began funding subsidised food and free meals for staff and students, offering potential monthly savings of £100.
  5. At St Andrews the university has negotiated a deal with the bus company Stagecoach – tickets will be subsidised at a 75 per cent reduction of normal price.
  6. The University of the Arts London will be providing new on-site mobile storage spaces to store free surplus materials, and deposit unused or surplus materials to share with others.
  7. Following some great campaigning from students and the Guild, Exeter University has launched £2 hot meals on campus to help students with the cost of living.
  8. UCLAN is offering free soup and a roll and free fruit in some of its campus refectories.
  9. The University of Manchester has transformed several spaces across the university for students to relax, hang out with friends and spend time in-between lectures and seminars.
  10. Cardiff University has removed fines in its Libraries for the late return of books, and has given every student on a bursary £10 printer credit.
  11. This term, UWS is offering all students on its Ayr, Lanarkshire and Paisley campuses a free breakfast every Tuesday and Thursday.
  12. At Newman University, there is a community pantry for use by both staff and students that has a stock of pre-packaged food and toiletries available to anyone in the community who is in need.
  13. The Royal College of Art offers financial assistance through a Materials Fund that aims to support students who may be needing funding to cover costs for course materials or materials.
  14. Sheffield SU has opened its clothes Swap Shop permanently throughout term so students can refresh their wardrobe at no extra cost
  15. Warwick’s Arts Centre has issued an open invite to local residents to make use of the building to stay warm during the day, offering a friendly space for people to come and enjoy – with a programme of activities planned for later this year.
  16. At Northumbria SU, students can bring their keep cup and tea bag, porridge pots, pot noodles, or hot water bottles and get free hot water from outlets.
  17. Queens University Belfast will waive all graduation fees for Winter 2022 and Summer 2023 and has said farewell to fines in the Library.
  18. At Leeds Trinity, a new “Grub Hub” – co-owned by the SU and the university – allows students to access basic food and hygiene essentials on campus.
  19. At Cardiff Met, “End of life” food from catering is being sold off cheaply at the end of the day.
  20. The Students’ Union at UWE is providing £5 bags with up to £20 worth of produce that include a variety of ingredients and a recipe card to make a few different meals, and the SU’s Placement Uniform Swap Shop opens every Wednesday to give healthcare students a more budget-friendly, eco-friendly placement experience.
  21. At Sheffield Hallam students can now access the top 100 eBooks for free, meaning students won’t need to pay for core textbooks.
  22. At Edinburgh Napier, students can grab a breakfast roll and a hot drink for free every morning.
  23. The University of Bristol is looking to make more jobs at the university available to students.
  24. At the University of Suffolk, there are free weekly breakfast and dinner clubs in the SU Social Space, free food bank and lunch bags in the SU, free tea and coffee from the SU kitchen and free sanitary products available from the Student Space
  25. Durham’s JCRs are organising at least three free social events for students this term, and introducing staggered payments for those events that carry costs.
  26. At the University of Birmingham, students can borrow blankets in the library to keep warm in the winter.
  27. At Essex as the temperature drops, the SU will be running a weekly “Warm Welcome” event offering free food in different warm spaces as well as the opportunity to meet other students and share experiences and tips for managing in the crisis. The university is also removing the cost of resit fees.
  28. At Oxford Brookes the university has cut the costs of laundry in accommodation, implemented a 50 per cent reduction in the cost of printing on campus and is introducing free sanitary products from dedicated free vending machines.
  29. At the University of Bath there are now Community Fridges where students can take or donate any unwanted in-date food to share with other students and staff, and avoid food waste.
  30. At King’s students can now get homemade porridge and a selection of cereals (a choice of toppings including, honey, maple syrup, nuts, seeds and fruit compote).
  31. At Exeter, financial circumstances will be included as reason for mitigation for assessments and exams, allowing students to delay or postpone handing in an assessment or taking an exam in these exceptional circumstances. And payment dates for fees have also been amended to mitigate hardship related to timing of loan payments.
  32. At Queen Margaret University Thank Goodness it’s Thursday events – including clothing swaps, board games and quizzes – feature free hot meals and takeaway meal packs, creating a vibrant and supportive sense of community.
  33. The University of York students’ union cost of living hub went live in the summer with hints and tips on free things to do that help you students get to know the City- and carries detail on the SU’s popular 40p hot breakfasts.
  34. At Heriot-Watt University, free porridge is available each morning on the Edinburgh campus from Monday to Friday, and free soup is also available every Thursday from 11.30am to 3.30pm.
  35. Liverpool John Moores SU is providing free Give it a Go sessions, FIFA World Cup nights and Christmas wreath making as well as staging clothes swap events for students.
  36. At York St John, to make sure that finances are not a barrier to participation in sport or extracurricular activities, the university has introduced a 50 per cent subsidy for all sport membership fees for those joining or renewing, and a flat £5 fee for all society membership fees for those joining or renewing.
  37. At Nottingham Trent, so that students can attend their graduation ceremony with one less thing to worry about, graduation gown hire for the 2022/23 academic year will be free of charge.
  38. At Bath Spa the SU has introduced a daily seasonal soup and bread deal for just £1, a free microwave and free hot water service, and the cost of laundry has been reduced – and frozen for the next two years.
  39. At the University for the Creative Arts, they’re cutting printing costs by as much as 25 per cent across the board – so whether it’s a double-sided black and white essay on A4 or a series of colour A3 prints, there’s savings to be made.
  40. Sussex SU is supporting a range of student co-ops, including a food waste cafe, a radical library and a Communal Gardening project.
  41. At UCL increased funding is now available through the SU’s Participation Fund, enabling students to access extra-curricular and co-curricular activities.
  42. Birkbeck SU is campaigning to ensure that departments base reading lists on resources that are available digitally as much as possible.
  43. At Oxford Brookes the university has cut the costs of laundry in accommodation, implemented a 50 per cent reduction in the cost of printing on campus and is introducing free sanitary products from dedicated free vending machines.
  44. Keele University will soon be subsidising bus fares which allow travel anywhere within the service area for Keele students, reducing the daily cost from £4.50 to £3.15, and reducing the weekly cost from £17 to £11.90.
  45. The University of Bolton has worked with local supermarkets and transport providers to offer food vouchers and discounted travel to students, as well as reintroducing their Laptop Loan scheme.
  46. The University of Nottingham has increased access to free kitchens, shower facilities, heated study spaces and period products.
  47. At the University of London, the monthly Swap Shop event to facilitate sustainable fashion is asking for Christmas Jumpers for its next event in December.
  48. The Metanoia Institute is trialling free food during teaching days, such as soup and instant rice pots, hot drinks and biscuits.
  49. The University of Leeds has expanded the provision of free period products at three new locations across campus, scrapped outstanding and future library fines, and is to subsidise hot meals for the whole community across campus catering.
  50. This year’s second hand book sale at Royal Holloway SU was hoping to beat last year’s results which put £2814 back into students’ pockets.

5 responses to “Fifty ways in which universities have been getting the costs of study down

  1. It’s great to see so many excellent institutional initiatives to support students with the Cost of Living crisis.
    Just to add to the list as requested, at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh we have a suite of initiatives that have genuinely been designed in partnership between the Senior Leadership Team, Students’ Union and various student and staff groups.
    Themed ‘Thanks Goodness it’s Thursday’ night events (including clothing swaps, board games, quizzes) with free hot meals and takeaway meal packs have been particularly popular and created a vibrant and supportive sense of community.

    1. The University of York students’ union cots of living hub went live in the summer with hints and tips on free things to do that help you get to know the City and the campus, discounts and freebies, news on local authority grants, budgeting tips, details of food banks and food cooperatives, links to advice and support, financial literacy info, news on our massive access grants and details of our incredibly popular 40p hot breakfasts. Enjoy.

  2. Anglia Ruskin University is offering £1 hot meals to all students and staff so everyone can enjoy a healthy hot meal on Campus.

  3. Its great to read about all the initiatives across Higher Education to support students (and colleagues!) At the University of Westminster we are offering free breakfasts and £3 hot lunch deals for all, free use of our gyms for the next year and all our self-funded PhD students were given a £300 cost of living crisis payment as well as extended hardship funds. Our funded PhD students have also received a stipend increase.

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