What do rising living costs mean for students?

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This year’s intake of Durham University undergraduates was even larger than the year before. Inflated ‘Covid grades’ and a growing demand for higher education has seen the student housing market become all the more competitive. This has undoubtedly been welcomed by landlords, who have pushed up rent. Indeed, this year Palatinate found evidence of prices jumping by as much as £25 per person (pppw), within a year in Gilesgate, and £20 in the Viaduct. 

Such a rise in student living costs can be observed throughout recent years and is the responsibility of the University as much as it is private landlords. College residence fees rose by 3.5% at the start of the 2019/20 academic year, and a further 2.9% at the start of last academic year. Although this year’s fees for standard rooms have not been increased, this small mercy does not change the fact that today’s prices are the result of ten years of inflation. 

The University’s example encourages private landlords to follow suit and push prices up each year. The University could be viewed as seeming to prioritise profits, which recent strikes and a refusal to reduce fees, in order to compensate for the way in which the student experience and higher education was affected by the pandemic, may further suggest. 

Rising rent is, unfortunately, not the only financial hit students will face this year. 2022 brings with it the promise of an energy crisis worse than any brought on by a 9am lecture. On April 1st, Ofgem, the energy regulator for the United Kingdom, is due to raise the price cap on energy bills, despite it already being at a record high of £1,277. Keeping warm will come at a higher price for students next winter. 

Delaying the financial burden of university is not the solution

Such financial burdens invariably affect students from working-class backgrounds more and it is the responsibility of the Government and universities to ensure that rising living costs do not disadvantage these students. 

Although maintenance loans have maintained their real value since 2016/17, Government reports have nevertheless revealed concern that ‘it is not enough to cover student living costs.’ If they acknowledge this is not enough, the Government must find solutions to the financial concerns of its student population. 

Increasing the student loans that burden graduates, however, is not necessarily the appropriate response. Recent research carried out by stockbroker, Interactive Investor, has compared the cost of living for 30-year-olds in 1991 and 2021; whilst wages appear similar at first (the average salary of a 30-year-old in 1991 was £31,239, in today’s money, whilst in 2021 it was £31,772) this changes once the cost of student debt is factored in. It was recorded that taking this into consideration docks wages by around £1,100 a year. Delaying the financial burden of university is not the solution. 

What the Government owes its student population is affordable student housing, subsidised if necessary, an energy market that is regulated with appropriate price caps, and a reduction in tuition fees. With recent cuts to universal credit, we cannot expect this Government to be sympathetic. Such neglect, however, undermines ‘widening participation’ strategies and comes at a severe cost, and it is the student, of course, who will foot the bill.

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