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One in five students at top UK universities consider dropping out, feel suicidal, over cost-of-living crisis, survey reveals

Students wearing protective face masks walk past Wadham College, Oxford University, ahead of the new academic year, in Oxford, Britain, September 17, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

One in five students at UK top universities are considering dropping out due to the worsening cost-of-living crisis across the country, and a quarter are regularly going without food and other essentials, a new survey has revealed.

A new research by the Russell Group Students’ Unions, which represents 24 of the UK’s most elite higher education institutions, suggests that more than 20 percent of the students at high-ranking universities such as UCL and Edinburgh are under the intense pressure of soaring prices, being forced to quit their studies.

More than half of those surveyed said that they are experiencing concentration problems caused by poor nourishment and financial stress, as their academic performance is negatively influenced by the deepening crisis.

The survey of more than 8,500 students, carried out in the first two months of this year, also found some students feeling suicidal, suffering from severe anxiety and loneliness. Some said their families were not turning on the heating at home so that their student children could eat.

Dr. Tim Bradshaw, the Russell Group’s chief executive, depicted the finding as “worrying” and said they are yet to get worsened.

He called on the government to take urgent action by addressing “flaws in the maintenance loans system” and raising loans in line with soaring inflation.

The group also called on the government to consider reintroducing maintenance grants or hardship loan support for students who are grappling with the country’s deteriorating economic situation.

The damning report also revealed that the proportion of students who were considering dropping out rose to more than three in 10 among the most socioeconomically disadvantaged.

According to the researchers, the current economic failure across the country could lead to universities being “only open to the most privileged”, undoing decades of progress on broadening higher education access.

Dani Bradford, policy and research manager at Students’ Union UCL, who led the research, said: “We’re really running a risk where our university system is only open to the most privileged.”

The average respondent fell below the UK poverty line, she said, and only £2 a week above the UK level of destitution, after paying for housing.

“It’s not just that they can’t go out and get coffee or socialize, it’s this very real level of quite severe poverty that a lot of our students are finding themselves in – and with no avenue to get out,” said Bradford said, adding that “it’s almost been normalized the suffering of students.”

First-year UCL student Sophie Bush, 20, who is forced to work as a part-time waitress in order to save funds, says she has seriously thought about dropping out of her studies because of the soaring cost of living.

“I know that if it gets any worse, I will be at breaking point. I have cried so many tears over money,” she said, adding that she still feels vulnerable and is unsure how she will fund next year.

The UK is grappling with record-high inflation, causing soaring prices of commodities and services. The cost-of-living crisis has caused many labor forces across the country to launch strikes to get fair pay.

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