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Students ‘close to the brink’ financially says NUS

Tuesday 8 September 2020

COVID-19 has resulted in many students losing key forms of income, with many financially unprepared for the coming year, says a new survey from NUS (National Union of Students).

7 in 10 students reported seeking some kind of financial help during lockdown, as the effects of the pandemic stretched students’ funds to breaking point, with half of all participants stating they will now need to find full-time or part-time work alongside their studies to be able to afford to stay in education.

The Coronavirus and Students Survey phase II took place in July and involved over 4,000 students, building upon the previous research issued by NUS in April 2020. Half of the participants said that the income of someone who supports them financially had been impacted by Covid-19, with 3 in 4 concerned about their ability to manage financially beyond the pandemic.

The full impact of the current recession is fully understood by students and expected to last long into the future, with 3 in 4 concerned about their finances post pandemic and 4 in 5 graduates concerned about their job prospects and long-term careers.

Many students have sought ways of helping themselves during the summer with 34 percent of students having a summer job lined up and another 35 percent looking for one, but many in this latter group had little confidence of finding employment due to the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on traditional seasonal work. 3 in 5 in this group were not confident about finding a job as a result.

Students’ budgets remain very tight, with basic needs (rent, utility bills, internet access for online learning and food) accounting for 71 percent of income on average. Add in 5 percent for additional course costs and 7 percent for travel, and over 80 percent of a student’s income is pre-allocated when they start the year. Worryingly 20 percent of students have confirmed they will not be able to pay their rent and essential bills when they return to study later this month, and 3 in 4 students are anxious about paying their rent this term.

These results raise urgent questions for UK governments if they are to ensure that students have the funds they need to support themselves as they return to education this term. With UCAS reporting that more students from disadvantaged areas are turning to education this year, NUS is calling on authorities to recognise the difficulties students are facing and provide more hardship funding to universities and colleges to help prevent and support those who find themselves in financial difficulty.

Larissa Kennedy, NUS National President, said –

“These figures show the grim reality facing students and young people right now. Students are close to the brink financially with little room for manoeuvre or options to help themselves. Many have lost jobs during the lockdown, not been able to find employment over the summer and/or seen the incomes of those they rely on financially seriously affected by coronavirus.

“On top of this we know young people will be hit particularly hard by this recession as they will be leaving education to enter a constricted job market, with greater competition and reduced opportunities.

“Governments across the UK need to act urgently to ensure that students do not go hungry or end up in rent arrears next term. They must work with universities and colleges to ensure that hardship funds are sufficiently resourced and available for all students who need them.”

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS Vice President for Higher Education, said –

“This pandemic has only underlined the inequalities that are inherent in our education system. Students from already disadvantaged backgrounds have been hit the hardest, as many of them rely on part-time jobs to afford their rent and bills.

“If we are to eradicate barriers to entry to university we must rethink the funding system in place. Students need to be eligible to greater levels of maintenance support and we need the urgent reintroduction of means-tested maintenance grants.”