(Photo: Blasius Erlinger via Getty Images)
To say the class of 2022 have had it tough is an understatement. Today’s school leavers received their GSCEs in the dark pandemic days of 2020 and now, they’re opening their A Level results in the midst of a cost of living crisis.
It should be a day of celebration after two-and-a-half hard years, but a generation of would-be students is wondering if university is even a viable option in the current economic climate.
Let’s not forget, university tuition fees are currently £9,250 per year in England and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned financial support for students is failing to keep up with skyrocketing inflation.
The maximum maintenance loan available for students from the poorest families living outside of London is set at £9,706 for the 2022/23 academic year. When you consider the rising cost of living, the value of this loan is the lowest level it’s been in seven years in real terms.
Peter Otto, who’s 18 and from Bromley, London, is eagerly awaiting his A Level results but says the rapid increase in inflation is “massively affecting” his university plans.
“Initially I planned to move away from home and take out a maintenance loan for university,” he tells HuffPost UK. “But now with the rising food and rent prices, I question whether relying on student finance may be sustainable without a part-time job or another source of income.”
Peter Otto hopes he'll be confirming a university place today. (Photo: Peter Otto)
Sue, 19, from Wakefield, shares similar concerns. “I will be staying at home as a result of the cost of living as it seems more practical and more sustainable for me financially in the long run whilst studying at university,” she says.
“I will definitely be getting a part time job in order for me to afford what I need during my studies at university.”
The student, who chose not to share her surname, says there’s some “relief” connected with finishing college just as inflation hits a 40-year high, because she’s glad she’s completed her exams before the country is hit with potential teacher strikes.
“Yes, there is a lot to worry about, but I am not going to let it demotivate me from working hard and getting a good job,” she says.
University is a traditionally a time for hedonism, for enjoying nights out and newfound freedom as much (if not more) than your studies. But this year’s cohort know they’ll have to rain in their socialising.
Samuel Igbokwe, 18 from Liverpool, says university has always been a goal of his both from an education perspective and because “the social aspect of it is something that cannot be replicated”.
Sue (left) has decided to live at home due to the cost of living, while Samuel Igbokwe (right) says he worries about life after graduation. (Photo: Supplied)
“I think it would really just force to be much more smarter in the way I spend my money and just [force] me to save more and basically look for more cost efficient things to do,” he says of the rising cost of living.
“It makes me very worried, because I’m not sure what will happen in the future when I graduate, but I feel like it’s also something that can be dealt with.”
Even students who were always intending to live at home point out they’ll be impacted by rising loving costs.
“I feel anxious as although I am staying at home, I do have to contribute to the bills and pay for travel, which continues to rise in price every year,” says Holly Anderson, 20, who’s based in Canning Town, London, and due to receive her BTEC exam results after studying at Newham College.
“Price increases mean that I have to spend more and will be unable to save as much for future expenses such as my own property.”
Anderson says many of her peers hoping to start university in September are concerned about money, at a time when they should be excited for this next chapter in their lives.
“This brings a fear of being unable to pay for a roof over their heads or having to choose between keeping the heating or light on,” she says. “This prevents us from going out and making memories and I worry that these sacrifices will prevent us from having the full uni experience.”
Holly Anderson plans to live at home while starting university in September. (Photo: Holly Anderson)
While the hopefuls we spoke to are determined to get to uni, it seems the cost of student life is putting some young people off from applying for traditional university courses.
In a survey 1,600 young people conducted by Virgin Media O2, almost a third (31%) said they would struggle with money at university and 28% said rising costs mean they no longer see university as such a good idea.
This could see alternative paths like apprenticeships gaining popularity. Ben Shoesmith, 19 and from Eastbourne, decided it was the better option last year.
“I knew that I didn’t want to start my working life in debt, but I wasn’t ready to stop learning after college,” he says. “An apprenticeship offered me the best of both worlds– the opportunity to earn whilst I learn and gain practical, real-life experience.
“By the time I finish my scheme, I will have great qualifications and transferable skills that set me up for my future career but with no student loan to pay off.”
The rise in living costs is also playing on the minds of international students like Atilola Oriowo, 18, from Nigeria, who’s hoping to study Law with French Law at a British university this September.
Oriowo is currently living with her aunt in Slough and moved to the UK two years ago to take her A Levels here.
Ben Shoesmith (left) chose to start an apprenticeship to avoid uni debt. Atilola Oriowo (right) says the cost of living is impacting international students, too. (Photo: Supplied)
“I’m worried about the rising cost of living as an international student because I think it puts more strain on how much money my parents are already paying,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“The exchange rate also plays a huge role in my university experience as it keeps rising every day, which puts even more pressure on my parents because they earn in naira, not pounds. So, I do think it might impact how much I planned on going out, eating and just generally surviving at university because I’m not going to enjoy university to its fullest extent because of how much everything costs.”
Oriowo does not think enough is being done to help young people in the UK and prospective international students facing rising living costs.
“I’ve seen my friends trying to get jobs and having to wait about six months before finally hearing back,” she says. “It’s ridiculous and in uni cities I can only assume it will be way worse because of the increase in competition.”
Otto echoes this, saying there’s been little support targeted at young people starting university in the current climate.
“A lot of young people are going to university without learning how to financially plan or budget,” he says. “I feel like there needs to be lot more awareness spread about tips of how to save money, in order to help young people to cope with the cost of living crisis and to manage their money more sustainably.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.