National Union of Students’ leader warns that many students struggle to pay for food, basic travel and textbooks
The survey also finds that many students are struggling to get together enough money to cover basic costs such as travel and textbooks.
The findings come before the launch this week of an NUS Extra poverty commission that will look at the barriers to entering education for working-class people.
Travel costs of £17.35 a week are also a cause for concern, with 43% worried about daily travel to university or college, according to the online survey of nearly 2,000 students.
As many as half are worried about being able to buy course resources such as books and materials.
The commission’s board will make recommendations aimed at influencing government policy.
The new NUS Extra president, Shakira Martin, said the survey findings showed the “desperate state” of student finances.
“Not only are university students forced to take on an enormous debt burden from the moment they begin studying, they are also given insufficient support to survive throughout their studies,” said Martin, who spoke passionately earlier this year of how her working-class background would help shape her priorities in leading the NUS Extra.
“No wonder we are seeing those from the most deprived backgrounds dropping out before they complete their studies. Rising living costs affect the poorest students the most, forcing those at a university to take out bigger loans which means that they now leave with the highest levels of debt: up to £57,000. With the situation as it is, we can never achieve equality in this country. The education system is in urgent need of change.”
Among those surveyed was Laura Cartwright, 21, an English student in Sheffield, who said: “When I first arrived at uni I had no idea what I was doing, and the thing I was mostly clueless about was money.
“As a student, you expect to be strapped for cash – in many ways, it is all part of the experience – but it was much harder than I expected. It’s much more than not having much money to spend on a night out, it’s paying rent, books for your course, and a fridge that needs to be stocked.”
The research with further education and higher education students found that financial pressures meant almost three-quarters of students (71%) were stressed and anxious about money. Half worked during term time, while 23% had used overdrafts to extend their finances.