One in four students go without food as cost of living hits universities

By Aspel Brown, ITV News' Here's the Story

One in four students regularly go without food and other necessities because they cannot afford them, new research has found.

A survey of over 8,000 pupils commissioned by the Russell Group Students’ Unions and carried out by University College London has revealed the immense financial pressure those at some of the UK's top colleges are facing.

Students have cut back on spending, nights out and even considered quitting their education, with 94% of people surveyed concerned with the current cost of living crisis.

Researchers warn young people are being forgotten and will continue to struggle unless more help is given to students by the Government.

The survey of 8,800 university students is the largest study on financial pressures currently facing students to date.

The survey suggests the traditional view of students partying every weekend is no more as many feel their social lives have taken a hit because of rising costs. 

On average, students are left with only £50 per month after paying for expenses like bills and food.

Andreas Eleftehriades lives at home while studying for his Master’s degree at UCL because renting closer to campus is far too expensive. 

He called this year an “invisible lockdown” because many like him have been forced to stay at home and are prevented from socialising.

“It's almost like we’re still continuing the lockdown because we can't go out as much as we choose to,” Andreas said.

But it isn't just students from Russell Group universities who feel they're missing out.

Postgraduate student Alex Ojongobi is studying at the University of Hull and despite working hard to budget his finances, he can spend up to £150 a month on groceries.

He said: "If I have £10 in my pocket, I hold onto the £10 like my life depends.

"I had a couple of friends whose birthdays came up and they couldn’t celebrate because they’re financially restricted.”

Imperial College London student Miriam wants to study a PhD but doesn't know if she'll be able to afford it.

The student-led study also found over half of pupils feel their academic performance has suffered because of the crisis and 18% have even considered dropping out. 

Imperial College student Miriam Foulkes told ITV News dropping out would be a last resort but at one stage it looked like her only option.

Miriam said: “Last year, when I was struggling to get a flat, I was so close to dropping out.

“There was nothing within my price range and I had told my parents I was 24 hours away from sending an email in.” 

Luckily Miriam was able to secure accommodation but after the struggle, she is not optimistic about her remaining time at the university or if she’ll be able to afford to study for a PhD. 

“Not more than 24 hours has passed without me thinking about it and just having it in the back of my mind. 

She added: “I just don't expect to not have a year at university where I'm not having the same anxieties, looking towards the new year in terms of rent and just various bills adding up.”

Russell Group Students’ Unions represent over 700,000 students at the universities that form the Russell Group,

Russell Group universities say they are are stepping up support for students, providing financial help and subsidised food.

But their Students’ Unions want the government to do more such as increasing maintenance loans in line with inflation and reintroducing maintenance grants to support the most disadvantaged students. 

The survey highlighted the cost of living crisis is being felt most strongly by students from marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Charlie Sellar, an Elected Student Officer from Russell Group Students’ Unions, said: “Without intervention our higher education sector risks pricing out disadvantaged students entirely; many students will be at risk of dropping out, and it is a real concern that prospective students will be watching our students being left behind by government in vulnerable positions with limited access to support and decide that university is not for them.”