New report: 52% of students have skipped a meal because of lack of money

New report: 52% of students have skipped a meal because of lack of money

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NUS Scotland’s latest Cost of Survival report found that: 

  • 37% of students have considered dropping out for financial reasons (a rise from 36% in February 2022). The most common reason is not having enough money in their loan or bursary (34%) but the cost-of-living was cited by 1 in 5 considering dropping out (19%). 
  • 52% have skipped a meal because of lack of money and 11% have used a foodbank (up from 8%) 
  • 45% have gone without heating because of lack of money  
  • 35% have been unable to pay their rent in full 
  • 21% have missed a class due to travel costs and a further 7% missed a placement. 
  • 13% of all students have either been unable to find somewhere to live by the time their classes began in September 2023 (11%) or still hadn’t found somewhere (2%). 
  • 12% of students had experienced homelessness (10%) or were currently homeless (2%) 


The research is based on a survey of over 5,300 college and university students and apprentices. The report covers a wide range of issues including: homelessness, housing, student finances, and mental health and wellbeing.  


The results show that student poverty is more widespread than was previously thought. 


In almost all cases, the students struggling the most were from widening-access backgrounds, including estranged, disabled, and care-experienced students, as well as students who are carers and come from low-income households. 


This comes just a day after the stage three budget debate ignored students’ asks including for an increase in grants and bursaries and rent controls on student housing.

Commenting, NUS Scotland President, Ellie Gomersall said: 

“These figures should be deeply troubling for the Scottish Government. It is a shocking indictment of their governance that over half of all students have skipped meals because they could not afford to eat. If more is not done to support students through the cost-of-living crisis, we risk all but the richest people being unable to access education. 


“Further and higher education is free in Scotland because we want our education system to be accessible to all, but if students cannot afford to live whilst accessing that free education, we have failed to make it so. Students are already missing classes and even considering dropping out because they cannot afford to learn. 


“Though the figures keep getting worse, student poverty is not a new problem; it did not originate with the cost-of-living crisis and solutions to the cost-of-living crisis will not make it go away. The Scottish Government need to develop bespoke solutions for students that include increased grants and bursaries, rent controls on student housing, and half price bus and rail fares for all students.” 


Lydia Rohmer is the Principal Designate, UHI North, West and Hebrides, and a joint Lead Principal for poverty with Colleges Scotland. She said: “The figures published today are incredibly stark. I know as a college Principal many of our students are really struggling with the cost of living, which is closely linked to poor mental health, stress and anxiety. 


“Choosing college is a route out of poverty, but students have to be able to afford to come to class and complete their course so that they can move into good careers. 


“Many colleges are using their own budgets to provide free breakfast or soup to students alongside other mitigations like referral to foodbanks and money advice. However, college budgets are falling and student support is being cut in real terms as well, so there does need to be a much more sustainable way to help our students. 


“Colleges would welcome a real debate about the impact of student poverty, especially around housing and energy costs. This research is an alarming insight into the day-to-day financial pressures students are facing.” 

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