Socialist Students. Photo: Mary Finch
Socialist Students. Photo: Mary Finch

June Angus, West London Socialist Party

Studying at university has become even more unaffordable for less well-off students, a recent report published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) reveals.

The report calculates that the ‘Minimum Income Standard’ – the minimum income needed to study at university per year, including costs of living such as rent and groceries but excluding tuition fee costs – has risen to £18,632 for those studying outside of London, and £21,774 for those within London. Maintenance loans are able to cover less of these expenses year on year.

According to the National Union of Students, 69% of students are now employed alongside studying to afford their studies, up from 45% in 2022. Students have reported that balancing working, studying, and other commitments – alongside worrying about money – is having a negative impact on their academic achievement.

Access to higher education is further becoming the privilege of the wealthy few, deepening the economic inequality in the UK as working-class and poorer young people are forced to forego education and take low-paid jobs with little chance of long-term progression. Meanwhile, universities are being run like businesses: relying on inflated fees while simultaneously axing degree programmes, underpaying staff, and providing little support to students. Staff participating in the UCU strikes in 2022-23 spoke out on many of these deeply ingrained issues.

The long-term impact of the crisis in higher education is dire. Young people will have fewer opportunities, and industries dependent on qualified graduates will continue to face worker shortages.

The solution is obvious: stop treating education as big business and start treating it as an essential public service, free to use with grants, not debt, to enable people to study. It’s time for a democratically run and high-quality higher education system that is accessible to all and meets the needs of both students and staff.