The Government announced last week that maximum maintenance loans in England will only rise by 2.5%Louis Ashworth with permission for Varsity

Cambridge students are forced to take full days off their course to work part-time jobs, in a bid to finance their degree amid a cost of living crisis, a Varsity investigation has revealed.

Last month, the Government announced that the maximum maintenance loan for students in England for the 2024/5 academic year will rise by 2.5% to match forecasted inflation.

This has been criticised by some, who note that inflation has risen above forecasted rates in recent years.

The Russell Group, of which Cambridge University is a member, have said that students on the maximum maintenance have suffered a real term cut of £2,000 since 2020.

A second-year student at Gonville & Caius College told Varsity that, despite living in the cheapest Caius accommodation, she is unable to “make ends meet”.

As a result, she was “forced” to spend the week leading up to their rent payment working daily, totalling around 30 hours in seven days.

“All the money I do earn has gone on rent or food. The increase to the price of the latter means I am often unable to afford my food shop unless I have worked that day and I have had to forgo breakfast the entirety of this term,” she said.

“My academic performance has been severely affected. To maintain a living in Cambridge, I have to take entire days off academic studies to work – I no longer feel like a student, but a woman with a nearly full-time job who reads for a bit of fun,” she said.

Her current budget has meant that “I live paycheque to paycheque, so I give myself around £30 of spending money a week (includes food, coffee, drinks) which I’ve found fairly manageable. Around £15 of that gets spent on food so I’ve got another £15 that I can use for the pub. Clubs that have door fees are a no-go for me this term, along with most ticketed events.”

She also told Varsity that “I have contacted my college for support and as of yet have had no response.”

The National Union of Students’ survey of 6,600 students found that 96% of students are cutting back on spending, with 92% saying that it has affected their mental health.

The Office for National Statistics also reported in 2023 that of the 68% of students surveyed who receive a student loan, 58% said it did not cover living costs, and 25% said it only just covered living costs.

A student at Emmanuel College told Varsity: “I’m especially struggling with the fact that the price of everything has gone up. I’m forced to choose between buying basic essentials and I sometimes have to skip meals because of how expensive everything is.

“Me and my friends have started sharing most of our food to make it cheaper overall and I definitely do not have a balanced diet these days,” they said.

Another student detailed the impact the cost-of-living crisis has had on their mental health: “I’m not getting the mental health support I need from the University and the cost of therapy has gone up because of the cost-of-living crisis which has made everything more difficult for me.”

“I’ve thought about asking the University for financial help, but I don’t really have confidence that they can help,” they said.

For the academic year 2023/24, the maximum maintenance loan in England has been raised by 2.8%, whereas it was increased by 40% in Northern Ireland, 11.1% in Scotland and 9.4% in Wales for students in the most financial difficulty.

Part of the maximum maintenance loan is a non-repayable grant in some of these devolved regions, whereas the fund must be paid back in England.

The maximum income threshold required to access the largest maintenance loan is £25,000, despite widespread calls to raise the figure to £35,000.

The Russell Group said: “Once again, we are disappointed to see that there has been no move to correct the maintenance loan shortfall suffered by students in recent years. Inflation may now be slowing down, but today’s announcement fails to address the deficit that has been created across the last three years.”

Their spokesperson appealed to the Government to help universities address this shortfall: “The hardest hit will be the most disadvantaged students, who are at risk of dropping out due to financial pressures, so this decision by the Government risks undermining the sector’s efforts to widen access to higher education,” they said.


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A Cambridge University spokesperson told Varsity: “We understand how the cost of living is affecting many of our students and we have a range of support available, in particular the Cambridge Bursary Scheme - under which approximately £10m of funding can be accessed every year - and hardship funding which equates to a further £4.5m of support.”

“The University’s Student Support website also includes advice on how to access a range of wellbeing support at Cambridge, including what to do if students have financial concerns. We encourage any student who is struggling with the cost of living to speak to their College and access support,” they said.

Dr Andrew Spencer, Gonville & Cauis’ Senior Tutor, also said: “Any Caius student in hardship should speak to their Tutor or myself. Students can visit the Education and Tutorial Office at any time to seek advice, raise any concern or to speak to me. The Tutors meet every fortnight to discuss financial assistance and other grants and have supported significant numbers of students this year in need of financial assistance.”