Not having enough money to pay rent and utility bills is a regular worry for half of students, and more than a third have seriously considered leaving their course as a result, the National Union of Students has found in a major survey.
Of those undergraduates who had considered quitting, 49 per cent said that financial difficulty was their main reason for doing so, according to the NUS’ report, The Pound in Your Pocket, published on 5 December, which canvassed 14,404 students in higher and further education settings.
Ability to draw on family support had a significant bearing on students’ decision to progress to further or higher education, with 38 per cent of the respondents who received no family backing indicating that financial concerns had factored “to a great extent” in their decision about whether or not to stay in education. Among those receiving such support, the figure was only 26 per cent.
While 44 per cent of students who receive financial support from their family said they were regularly worried about paying basic living expenses, the figure jumped to 57 per cent among those who did not receive money from relatives.
Among supported students, 34 per cent said they did not feel able to concentrate on studies without worrying about finances, compared with 44 per cent of those who were self-financed.
The report also found that students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to take on paid work in addition to their studies. Some 30 per cent of university students said they undertook paid work during term time, with one in five full-time undergraduates reporting that they worked in excess of 16 hours a week.
Those from areas where participation in university was low were more likely to work more than 16 hours a week than those from areas of high participation, at 36 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.
Liam Burns, national president of the NUS, said although some of the report’s findings might sound obvious, its data provided evidence to back up these assumptions.
“There is very little research out there about some of our commonly held assertions that if you’re from a poorer background you’re likely to work more hours, and that if you don’t have as much funding you’re more likely to drop out,” he said. “We all presume this is true, but finally we’ve got some evidence that says that actually there is a strong correlation.”
Bank account overdrafts were the most common type of commercial debt incurred by undergraduates, with 55 per cent saying they had used one (rising to 61 per cent among those aged 21-24 on entry).
Just under 30 per cent of undergraduates said they had accepted a loan from family or friends. The number of students across all groups taking up high-risk debt, such as short-term, high-interest “payday” loans, was low overall. However, those from areas of low participation in higher education were three times more likely to take on high-risk debt than students from areas perceived to be better off.
“The debate around funding higher education will continue, and unfortunately too little has been said about how we fund further education, but nothing has been said about how we fund students’ [living costs],” Mr Burns said.