Seven in ten students consider dropping out – How universities can fix this gloomy statistic

Discover how digital transformation is the key to student well-being and retention

Cost of living and student welfare have dominated the UK headlines, with the cost of food, energy, and accommodation outpacing maintenance support. After so many students have already missed out on much of the traditional university experience during the pandemic, they are now really feeling the pinch as the cost of living spirals.

To better understand what such financial pressure meant for students’ university experience, we worked with Opinium to survey1 a representative sample of more than 1,000 university students across the UK.

The data showed that seven in ten students have considered dropping out of university since the start of their degree. Nearly two fifths of those gave rising living costs as the main reason, while 69% of all students admitted to adjusting their spending over the last term because of it.

Half of students reported having to cut back on eating out and nights out (54% and 50%), more than a third are cutting back on heating (36%), while a third are reducing their spending on basic groceries. In addition to maintenance loans, more than half of students (52%) now report having a full or part-time job to fund their “basic lifestyle” at university and afford their rent, utilities and food. Overall, more than half of students (54%) claimed that rising costs are “ruining” their university experience.

To better understand the financial pressure students are under, we also wanted to find out if they were better or worse off than the rest of the population. We created a “student inflation basket” based on the Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) CPI inflation basket of goods and services. We then mapped it onto the UCAS 2022 Freshers Report to identify the categories of goods and services applicable to students, such as food and drink, clothing and footwear, and study materials, as well as weightings for how much is typically spent in each category.

This revealed that students have seen their cost of living rise by 12.3% over the past year, about a fifth more than the price rises felt by the general public (10.25%). The biggest price increases include pasta (61%), milk (50%), and frozen vegetables (32%), while books and study materials saw a 13% increase. The cost of leisure activities has also surged. The price of a ticket to Glastonbury Festival has gone up by 26%, while takeaways are on average 13% more expensive than the previous year.

So how can universities go about fixing these gloomy statistics, particularly when they are under inflationary and staffing pressure themselves?

When we consider the effect the cost of living crisis is having on student retention – and what that means for universities’ revenue and reputation – it is crucial for universities to have mechanisms in place to spot at-risk students.

Modernising the way they communicate and interact with their students is key to being able to offer strong support and to spot early warning signs before struggling students risk walking away from their academic studies.

Progressive organisations recognise that digital transformation is the key to solving these challenges. Smart solutions better support the administrative and pastoral needs of universities and their students. Our OneEducation Software-as-Service solution for example provides higher education leaders with real-time, holistic data-driven insights. We know that investing in smart technology and analysing the right timely data can be transformative in helping universities identify and intervene when students are struggling – financially and emotionally – and ultimately helping them stay the course.

Not everything is doom and gloom though. One of the positives highlighted in the research was a large majority of students (69%) were happy with the split of online versus in-person classes they have scheduled, showing universities’ approach to blended learning in a post pandemic era is hitting the mark.

We know the last few years have had a profound impact on the higher education sector, but innovation often thrives under pressure, and now is the time for universities to be agile and embrace smart new technologies to gain an edge.

[1]  On behalf of TechnologyOne, Opinium surveyed a representative sample of more than 1,000 university students across the UK between 16th December 2022 – 3rd January 2023.

Publish date

01 Aug 2023


Looking for more resources?

Check out all 44 Education resources.