One in four students are taking on extra debt
In early November, one in four students said they had taken on new debt in response to rising cost of living – two thirds of whom said they did so because their student loan was not enough to support their living costs.
That’s one of the stark findings in the first iteration of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Student Cost of Living Insights Study (SCoLIS) – from the same team that brought us the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) that was running during the pandemic.
We’re looking here at students studying in England – with fieldwork carried out from 24 October to 7 November 2022. 14 universities took part, and ONS says that it has weighted for age, sex and region of higher education provider. The sample includes international students, which puts some of the findings in perspective.
It probably shouldn’t surprise us that more than 9 in 10 students reported that their cost of living had increased compared with last year (that’s almost identical to to the proportion of adults in Great Britain who reported the same), with 93 per cent reporting that the price of their food shop had increased, 6 in 10 reporting that their rent or mortgage costs had increased and a similar proportion reporting that their gas or electricity bills had increased.
But everyone’s facing higher costs, not everyone is worried about to the same extent. Students were asked how worried or unworried they had been about the rising cost of living in the previous two weeks – 42 per cent said they were somewhat worried, and 49 per cent said very worried. That “very” figure compares with 25 per cent in the general public, and 25 per cent of 16 to 29 year olds generally. Being very worried about money is, in other words, something that is highly concentrated among those who are students. I wonder why that might be.
What are they doing about it? Over six in ten are spending less on food shopping and essentials. Four in ten are using less fuel such as gas or electricity. 1 in 4 are using credit more than usual – credit cards, buy now pay later, loans or overdrafts to purchase essentials. A third are buying more secondhand goods, a fifth have sold personal possessions, and 7 per cent have gambled or invested in stuff like crypto.
That private debt thing ought to worry us a lot. Two thirds doing that say the student loan isn’t enough to support living costs, almost half say that other sources of income/support are declining or failing to meet living costs, and almost a third say that employment opportunities aren’t good enough. Of all of the cost of living progress, it feels like universities could still make significant progress on student employment both internally and in supply chains.
Even more worrying are some stark numbers on other approaches to coping with the crisis. Over 1 in 10 students know someone who has turned to selling drugs. 8 per cent know someone involved in sex work (with a similar figure for “worked in adult industries”) and 14 per cent know others that have stolen things they needed from shops. Expect these figures to turn up in the tabloids.
Family and university sources of financial help are where we might expect people to go. 48 per cent say they could go to their family for support – but 29 per cent say their family doesn’t have anything to give, with a further 14 per cent saying they wouldn’t be able to get money from the family even if they could afford it. 73 per cent haven’t (yet) applied for help from their university – which suggests the sector has some distance to go on making clear that students can and should apply for the extra that has apparently been invested in these funds.
ONS’ data doesn’t give us all the splits we’d like to see – partly because once you get there you end up with results that might not be significant. But one particularly miserable figure is that while 13 per cent of non-disabled students said they were in “major” financial difficulty, that figure is up at 20 per cent for disabled students. That those in receipt of DSA only have been repeatedly left off the list of disabled people getting extra help ought to shame us as a country.
Eventually, all this has academic impacts. A third reported that they are now less likely to do further study once they have completed their course, nearly 3 in 10 were skipping non-mandatory lectures or tutorials to save on costs, and more than than 3 in 10 were not attending additional course-related events that cost money (such as field trips or conferences). That will likely end up having impacts on their success in the labour market. Four in ten students were studying more at home to save on costs, with almost a third travelling to campus less frequently and 1 in 5 attending lectures remotely where possible.
The associated correlations with mental health are unlikely to surprise you either. Average results on the four main wellbeing questions are broadly comparable to 18-29 year olds in the wider population – but nearly one in five students said they feel lonely often or always (significantly higher than both the general adult population and those aged 16 to 29) and students who reported they were experiencing major or minor financial difficulties had worse scores on all four well-being measures.
55 per cent of those in major financial difficulty report a deterioration in their mental health since the start of term – compared with 29 per cent of those comfortably off. Similarly 53 per cent of those in major financial difficulty report high anxiety – compared with 35 per cent of those comfortably off. Ministers that make pronouncements about mental health outside of the context of financial support should really sit down and study the figures.
One other fascinating split in the figures concerns satisfaction – both with the academic and “non academic” experience. Again if we compare the extremes, 63 per cent of the financially comfortable are satisfied with the academic experience when compared with 21 per cent of those facing major financial difficulties – with a less pronounced but significant difference on social experience too. Maybe, all in all, it’s right that the main satisfaction question is gone from NSS – on this evidence, it tells us more about student poverty than it does about university quality.
One response to “One in four students are taking on extra debt”
“The associated correlations with mental health are unlikely to surprise you either. Average results on the four main wellbeing questions are broadly comparable to 18-29 year olds in the wider population – but nearly one in five students said they feel lonely often or always (significantly higher than both the general adult population and those aged 16 to 29) and students who reported they were experiencing major or minor financial difficulties had worse scores on all four well-being measures.” You right, totally unsurprising, as unlike 16-29 those working in the ‘real world’™ who have little time to worry whilst getting on with life. Students on the other hand often have lengthy periods of ‘self-directed study’ or other non-activity time to brood on things, made worse not only by the MSMSM’s near constant catastrophist output, but their own university and SU’s catastrophism dressed up as concern for their welfare as well. And I’m fairly certain many of those worst affected have long term unaddressed neurotic and/or narcissistic issues too, from my direct observation and interacting with students that’s getting progressively worse year on year.