Stressed student

Unpicking the student cost of living crisis 

The last few weeks have been tough. 

If you’ve switched on the news, you’ll know that positivity is in short supply, and unfortunately it seems like it’s going to get a lot worse for those residing in England. 

We are all facing rising energy, petrol and food costs, which rose by 6.2% in the year leading up to February 2022, making this the fastest surge of inflation in the last 30 years. 

With prices rising faster than wages, there’s increasing concern across the country about how people will be able to afford the cost of living; however, there’s little consideration into the impact this will have on students. 

Student loans and grants remained at a fixed rate and, from personal experience, without delving into personal financial circumstances, these were not generous and only just covered the cost of my rent at university halls of residence.   

As of September 2021, Save The Student, an organisation which provides free, impartial advice to students on how to make their money go further, pinpointed the cost of living for students to £801 per month, with £17 pounds of that going towards course materials. 

Upon further research, £17 per month or £204 per calendar year isn’t actually representative of the amount students typically spend on textbooks. According to official data published in 2015, textbook inflation far outweighs that of the current inflation we’re experiencing. 

How much, I hear you ask?

Well, since 1977, the cost of textbooks rose 1,041 per cent – almost four times the overall rate of inflation which, according to University of Essex, means that students can typically expect to budget between £450 and £1,070 for books and equipment per year. 

As a former student, I can agree this is much more in line with what I had to spend on books and other materials essential for my degrees, but I graduated in 2019. And it gets worse…  

Recent data published by National Union for Students (NUS) has highlighted the financial plight of UK students with some startling statistics , including:

  • Over half (51%) of students with a student loan or a bursary do not believe it covers the costs of living. 
  • Over 3 in 4 students are worried about managing financially. 
  • 1 in 4 students have less than £50 to live off a month. 
  • 1 in 5 rely on credit cards to supplement the cost of living.

What do students think of the cost of being a student?

We’ve spoken to some current students to find out how the student cost of living crisis is impacting them.

Ellie Szade is a student at Bath Spa University studying Business and Management with Marketing. Whilst her university library provides books both online and in print, Ellie said: “If we want them to keep, we need to purchase them ourselves.” 

With a course such as Business Management and Marketing, keeping your textbooks to refer back to in the early stages of your career can be essential. 

Furthering this, Ellie said: “Textbooks can get extremely expensive, and degree depending, you need a lot of them.

“Fortunately students sell their old textbooks to students at a cheaper price but not everyone is in a financial position to purchase them. I feel the main / core textbooks for your course should be provided.

“Any ones they recommend but aren’t essential we should purchase ourselves if we wish to.”  

When asked specifically about whether essential reading materials should be provided given the impact of inflation on students, Ellie said: “I feel it needs to be looked into and analysed against the cost of living at uni. The cost of food, bus passes, bills, etc… are all so expensive.

“The cost of living wasn’t taught in schools, so uni is the first time for many students to experience what living like an adult is, and the reality is, it’s extremely expensive and tiring.” 

“I was working during my first year during the pandemic and it was so difficult to juggle my studies, work and enjoy life. I knew going forward I wouldn’t take on a part-time job during uni as it was too much but then I had to sacrifice certain things to be able to live on the money I had.” 

Emphasising Ellie’s points about the impact of inflation, Nia Patel, a third-year joint honours student at Queen Mary University of London, was asked whether the government have considered students during the financial crisis.  

“Personally? No. The coalition government of 2010 made a promise to cut tuition fees – instead they were raised considerably. Student debt is at an all-time high. If I was shown concrete proof that action was being taken to relieve the financial burden on students, I might be able to change my mind.” 

Deborah, one of Kortext’s Student Ambassadors at University of Birmingham said:

“My rent just increased, and I’m just lucky I don’t have textbook expenses to deal with for now…
I talked to my landlord about it and he says it’s everywhere and further explained why but it’s obvious because of everything going on in the news.

“Groceries have also skyrocketed. I used to spend £30 or less now I’m spending like £50. 

“I think if we are not provided with eTextbooks next year, in this current situation, it would affect me more and it will be an extra burden with the bills/other expenses I’m responsible for. 

“Prospective students might also feel the pressure because as a current tenant, my rent increased less than the 10% it was supposed to accumulate to but for prospective/new tenants, rents are increasing 40% according to my knowledge.”

What can you do to ensure that students aren’t having to choose between hunger or their thirst for knowledge?

One of the biggest things institutions can do to ensure that students aren’t having to make difficult choices is provide the essential reading materials necessary for course completion.  

Ensuring students have equitable access to the materials they need helps to level the playing field and ensure students aren’t being held back by financial worries.

To provide equity of access and a more engaging study experience, universities could go one step further and provide digital copies of textbooks. This way, students can benefit from 24/7 access to digital resources, and can study at their own pace, whenever and wherever they want. Some universities have also created a mobile-friendly version of their library website and catalogue so that students can engage with digital resources from any device when they have a good wireless connection. 

Providing textbooks in a digital format also has benefits for academics. For example, academic and librarian users of Kortext’s smart study platform have access to Kortext’s insightful data analytics.  

Kortext’s analytics dashboards provide valuable reports on student engagement which allows academics to see study patterns, student behaviours and content usage, so academics, librarians and course leaders can make informed decisions to improve engagement. 

There are other benefits to providing students with eTextbooks too…

Using Kortext, we can help your university to improve outcomes. Delivering an enhanced teaching and learning experience, you can trust our platform to make a difference within your university and aid you in achieving those great student satisfaction scores. 

With a vast catalogue of over 2 million eBooks, Kortext can provide your students with the materials they need to succeed.  

Are you ready to help your students achieve their full potential and boost your NUS scores?

Click here to request a demo 


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