Cost of living and fees taint the UK UG international experience

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The cost of living and price of tuition fees are tainting the value and experience of studying in the UK for international students, research has suggested.

The
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/HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey 2023 found that 50% of EU undergraduates in the UK said that they feel their studies have been impacted by the cost of living ‘a little’, while 27% said it has impacted their studies ‘a lot’.

Meanwhile, 43% of international students from outside the EU said the cost of living has impacted their studies ‘a little’, with a further 27% saying their studies have been impacted ‘a lot’.

“There are many positives in this year’s results, which show the post-pandemic recovery is well under way in higher education. But the survey also shows the cost of living crisis is not just shorthand for rising prices – most students are being affected in adverse ways,” said Nick Hillman, director,
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“Given there is an expectation of a general election in the next year or so, we urge policymakers to engage with what students are saying via this year’s results. The survey shines a spotlight on the areas of higher education that are working well and the areas working less well.”

The 17th edition of the survey captured the views of 10,163 full-time undergraduate students studying in the UK, of which 1,679 are international – 876 from the EU and 803 from the rest of the world.

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It found that 35% of EU students consider their student experience to be ‘good or very good’ value-for-money. Meanwhile, 38% of international students from outside of the EU believe this. The research found that the value for money perceptions for international students are running very close to the average, with 37% being the average for all domiciles this year.

For domicile students who described their value for money as ‘poor’, the cost of living was the driving factor behind this perception. Although 37% of EU students and 38% of international students from outside of the EU cited this as the reason for their ‘poor’ value for money, it is not dominant driver of value for international students.

The survey found that 48% of EU students highlighted tuition fees as the reason for this poor perception, along with 39% of international students from outside of the EU.

The research showed a small upturn in value perceptions across all parts of the UK, with the exception of students domiciled in Wales. However, none of the changes are statistically significant, the report highlights.

“Students have demonstrated exceptional resilience in the face of a challenging few years, and we are pleased to see satisfaction with their academic experience has risen above pre-pandemic levels as campuses have returned to normal,” said Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the
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“However, it is clear that the cost of living crisis is having an impact on students’ studies. Universities are stepping up support for students, including providing millions of pounds of extra financial assistance alongside a range of other measures on campus. But additional government support is needed, and we continue to urge it to address flaws in the maintenance loans system and uplift loans so they reflect actual inflation since 2020/21.”

A spokesperson for
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said it is “encouraging” to see the proportion of students rating the quality and value of their degree has gone up.

“However, this data definitively shows that students’ university experience is being negatively impacted by the cost of living crisis,” they continued.

“The vast majority feel that their ability to study has been affected, with many having to take on increased hours working to make ends meet. We need government to act fast to increase the amount of maintenance support for students.

“Universities are doing their bit by increasing hardship funding, offering subsidised or free food on campus and increasing other forms of pastoral support, but there is a limit to what they can do without action from government.”

Students were also surveyed on their levels of wellbeing, and compared the findings to that the Office for National Statistic’s findings for the same question asked of the general UK population. The report notes that since it began making the comparison in its research, student levels of wellbeing have been “some way below that of the general population”.

“This shows no sign of changing for the better,” it added.

The research found that levels of wellbeing for EU students are more positive than the total student sample, particularly in terms of happiness and low anxiety, with these two measures closer than the survey average to that of the UK population, but still sitting some way behind.

“It is really important that we listen to students’ priorities and work with them to co-create an academic experience that helps them fulfil their talents and ambitions,” said Alison Johns, chief executive, Advance HE.

“It’s clear that the cost-of-living crisis is holding their experience back, and all stakeholders will be keen to look at ways to mitigate this and achieve and sustain high value in the long term.”

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