NUS UK welcomes the additional £10 million for student hardship support but criticises the real-terms decrease in maintenance loans in England

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The union has criticised the government for not addressing the fundamental issues leading to student financial hardship, despite the announcement of a 2.5% increase in maintenance loans.

The government has revealed a one-off £10 million boost in hardship funds for students along with a 2.5% rise in maintenance loans for the academic year 2024/25. However, NUS UK has questioned the effectiveness of these measures. Despite assertions by the government that the 2.5% increase in loans is intended to match projected inflation rates, the union has highlighted that inflation has significantly outpaced the increments in maintenance loans previously, leading to an effective reduction of 11% (or £1,300) in real terms compared to the 2020/21 period. This announcement arrives shortly after Martin Lewis advised the government that the consistent below-inflation rate increases in maintenance loans are making access to higher education more difficult for students from lower-income backgrounds.

NUS UK's Vice President of Higher Education, Chloe Field, commented, "We are grateful for the £10 million allocated to alleviate student hardship, a testament to the relentless campaigning for increased government support amidst the cost-of-living crisis." However, she noted, "With 94% of students cutting back due to the cost-of-living crisis, including 65% reducing food expenditure, an extra £10 million in hardship funds barely addresses the severity of the issue.

At present, the average student rent takes up more than 99% of the typical maintenance loan. Students need loans that adequately cover their essentials, including accommodation, food, utilities, and social activities. Without adequate support, we risk creating a two-tier system of student experiences, where students from wealthier backgrounds can focus on their studies, whilst those from less affluent backgrounds are forced to work extensive hours in addition to their full-time education.

While the £10 million announced today is welcome, it acts merely as a temporary solution to the wider challenges students face. Only through bold, long-term strategies that eliminate student poverty and secure sustainable funding for higher education can we tackle the systemic issues within the sector and ensure that all students, irrespective of their background, have the opportunity to realise their full potential without the barriers of financial and class constraints.