Working-class university students are penalised by a “poverty premium”, facing higher living costs than their peers, that makes maintenance loans insufficient for student survival.
The report, published by the National Union of Students (NUS), found that student expenditure routinely surpasses income from loans, and leaves many parents who cannot afford to subsidise their children without the means to pay for necessities like food and heating.
It suggests that accommodation fees are often unaffordable for those on maintenance loans, as many universities raise rents above inflation to generate income.
A freedom of information request by the University of East Anglia students’ union, cited in the report, found that more than 20 universities generated more than £1,000 profit per bed space a year.
One student said they had to find an additional £700 on top of their maintenance loan to pay for their accommodation.
In England, the top bracket maintenance loan for students living away from home outside London is £8,430 for the 2017-18 academic year.
“The report, titled “Class Dismissed: Getting in and Getting on in Further and Higher Education”, suggests that dropout rates from university are highest among working-class students, who are likely to be more concerned about debt than their wealthier peers.
This pricing policy risks segregating working-class students in lower-cost accommodation from others who have access to additional funds from their families,” the report states.
Another student voiced concern over the struggle to afford to participate in social events, being charged £200 to join a junior common room (JCR).
Access courses, which are run by many universities including Oxford to further equality in the sector, often require students to pay an additional year of fees to gain qualifications.
The report also suggests that working-class students struggle to find a guarantor to rent a property in the private sector, and are forced to use private schemes with higher interest rates and fees.
The NUS calls for an introduction of a minimum living income for students in further and higher education, and recommends the restoration of maintenance grants, the education maintenance allowance (EMA), and NHS bursaries for healthcare students.