Risk 10: Cost pressures

Increases in cost pressures may affect a student’s ability to complete their course or obtain a good grade.


This is likely to be due to multiple factors, including (but not limited to):

  • some students undertaking more paid work than is feasible alongside full-time study
  • students experiencing poorer mental health as a result of financial concerns
  • students having to support families.

Experiencing this risk is likely to impact a student at the access, on-course and at the progression stages of their education.

  • Increasing costs of living, if not adequately addressed, may result in an increasing number of students undertaking part-time or full-time employment alongside their studies, poorer mental and physical health for students, reduced attendance on-course, and less time to study.
  • Together, these may increase the risk of lower on-course attainment rates and lower continuation rates.
  • The cost of living crisis may also impact on access to university, as students may be less likely to apply to higher education and/or limit their higher education choices according to financial need (e.g. a student may only apply to a provider near their home, or may limit their choice to part-time courses).

Students who are:

  • from a low household income
  • first in family
  • disabled
  • mature
  • commuters
  • young carers
  • LGBT
  • Muslim
  • estranged
  • care experienced.

Note that the ordering does not denote a scale or ranking system.


It is important to consider how different student characteristics might interact with each other, and with school and areas-based characteristics. Providers may also wish to consider whether the mode of study heightens a risk. It is therefore recommended that providers consider intersectionality closely when looking at their own data.

For different groups of students, the impact of these risks that are visible in data might be:

  • below benchmark scores for NSS questions relating to mental health and wellbeing 
  • increasing and/or high proportions of students accessing provider-run wellbeing and counselling services
  • low on-course attainment rates for students
  • low continuation rates for students
  • low completion rates.

Although this is a national risk, the extent to which it is seen at each provider may depend on factors such as:

  • entrance tariff
  • location
  • whether the provider recruits locally or nationally
  • the extent of on-course academic and personal support.

We therefore encourage providers to examine their own data to establish if this risk to equality of opportunity affects their current or potential student population.

Bland, B. & Shaw, J. (2015) ‘New Starts: The challenges of Higher Education without the support of a family network’. Unite Foundation & Standalone

Department for Education (2023) ‘Alternative Student Finance’.  (Accessed 12/01/2024)          

Frampton, N, November (2022) Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, ‘How the cost of living crisis is affecting students’ money and mental health’.           

HEPI & Unipol (2023) ‘Student accommodation costs across 10 cities in the UK. Cost pressures and their consequences in Purpose-Built Student Accommodation’. (Accessed 11/01/2024)        

HEPI (2023) ‘Student Academic Experience Survey 2023’. HEPI. (Accessed 12/12/2023)                

House of Commons Library (2022) ‘How is the rising cost of living affecting students?’ (Accessed 11/01/2024)     

House of Commons Library (2023) ‘Impact of increases in the cost of living on further and higher education students’. (Accessed 10/12/2023)    

House of Commons Library (2023) ‘The value of student maintenance support’. Published 13 January 2023.  (Accessed 12/12/2023)   

Hauari, H. Hollingworth, K., Cameron, C (2019) ‘Getting it right for care experienced students in higher education’. UCL.           

K Ellis, C Johnston (2019) ‘Pathways to University from Care: Findings Report One’. DOI: 10.15131/shef.data.9578930) Pathways findings report (1).pdf  

Levelling Up Unequal Access to University Education’ (muslimcensus.co.uk). (Accessed 11/01/2024) 

Office for National Statistics (2023), released 24 February 2023, ONS website, statistical bulletin, ‘Cost of living and higher education students, England: 30 January to 13 February 2023’   

Office for Students (2021) ‘Insight 9 May 2021 Improving opportunity and choice for mature students’. (Accessed 10/12/23)           

Office for Students (2023) ‘Insight brief 17: Studying during rises in the cost of living’. (Accessed 11/01/2024)                    

Russell Group Students Union (2023) ‘Cost of living report’. (Accessed 11/01/2024)                      

Save the Student. 'Key findings from the Student Money Survey 2022' (Accessed 30/11/2023)

Schuelke, L., Munford, L. & Morciano, M. (2022) ‘Estimating the additional costs of living with a disability in the United Kingdom between 2013 and 2016’. Eur J Health Econ 23, 313–327 (2022).      

The Sutton Trust (2022) ‘Cost of Living and University Students’.(Accessed 12/12/2023)     

The Sutton Trust (2023) ‘Cost of Living and University Students - Sutton Trust’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)    

The Sutton Trust (2023) ‘New polling on the impact of the cost of living crisis on students’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)                

Universities UK (2022) ‘Student’s Cost of Living Poll’. Universities UK. 3 September 2022, Savanta. (Accessed 11/01/2024)           

Veruete-McKay, L., Scheulke, L., Davy, C., & Moss, C., (2023) ‘The disability Price tag: Technical report 2023’. Scope. (Accessed 01/12/2023)

Published 29 March 2023
Last updated 18 January 2024
18 January 2024
We have published a list of references that informed this risk.

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