This year, for the first time, two thirds of first-year students intend to find part-time jobs to augment maintenance loans that barely cover rent, let alone food or travel to campus, says Ucas. Some universities, including Anglia Ruskin’s London campuses, are moving to three-day weeks to facilitate part-time work.
A National Union of Students survey last year found that more than one in 10 students are using food banks, one in five are unable to afford toiletries and a third are living on less than £50 a month, after paying rent and bills.
We should not underestimate the psychological impact of the situation on these very young people.
As the cost-of-living crisis continues apace, parental contributions are not an option for cash-strapped families and no offer of governmental help is forthcoming, we should not underestimate the psychological impact of the situation on these very young people. The developmental trajectory of this year’s cohort was severely affected by the pandemic. Their school lives were disrupted over three crucial years; they did not receive regular, in-person teaching nor experience the daily energy of classroom, playground or sports team.
If they are now 19 and took a gap year, they did not sit GCSEs and missed out on prom and the obligatory post-exam festival. Sixth form residential trips, long trailed by older siblings as opportunities for misbehaviour and cementing new friendships, were cancelled; house parties did not happen.
The effects of these lost rites of passage are profound — especially for those who found the isolation of lockdown financially or emotionally traumatic — and can be seen in the relative immaturity of young people at every stage of development. The lead tutor of a London-based art foundation course told me last year that her intake of 18-year-olds behaved as though they were 16: loveable, cliquey, chaotic. How could it be otherwise?
Young people are hungry for an education, borrowing huge sums to invest in their learning and future careers. We must invest in them too: not bringing their loans in line with the cost of living subjects students to a form of psychological cruelty and there is no excuse in the world for that.
Sophie Hastings is a journalist and arts writer