UK undergraduate withdrawals increase by 23 per cent

Steep rise in dropouts blamed on cost of living as inflation erodes value of student finance

September 29, 2022
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A steep increase in the number of students withdrawing from university courses in the UK has been blamed on the rising cost of living.

Figures released by the Student Loans Company showed that 39,758 undergraduates withdrew from a course in the academic year 2021-22, compared with 32,364 in 2020-21, a year-on-year increase of 23 per cent.

The period was marked by continued disruption resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic as well as rising concerns about the impact of soaring inflation on student budgets.

The National Union of Students’ vice-president for higher education, Chloe Field, said the figures were “shocking, but not surprising, given the cost-of-living crisis which is pushing students to the brink”.

“We’ve warned that student dropouts could increase as university becomes less affordable, and it could get even worse this year,” she added.

“One in three students is living on £50 a month after paying rent and bills. This is a totally unacceptable situation, but instead of delivering additional support for students, the government is busy prioritising the needs of the richest in society.”

Sector bodies including Universities UK have in recent weeks urged the Westminster government to provide extra support to students, including hardship funding and the return of maintenance grants, warning that many might be forced to abandon their studies if financial aid does not keep up with inflation.

Polling released earlier in September found that 67 per cent of students say they are concerned about managing living costs this term, while 55 per cent say they could be forced to quit their studies as a result.

Measures already introduced – such as rebates on energy bills – do not benefit most students as they are paid to the householder instead of individuals. UUK warned ahead of the government’s mini-budget last week that students risked being forgotten in the crisis, but no new support measures were announced.

“Students are telling us they can’t afford to continue their studies; they’re having to choose between feeding themselves and carrying on their education. Many can no longer afford to travel to placements; they’re holding down multiple jobs to make ends meet. Inevitably, it is the students from the poorest background who are being disproportionately affected,” Ms Field continued.

“The government needs to take control of this situation by tying student support with inflation and delivering urgent maintenance grants and bursaries, otherwise student poverty will continue to grow and we’ll see even more dropouts.”

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