Cost of living crisis threatens to set back work to widen access to London HE 

A new report, entitled Opportunity Cost: access to HE and the cost of living crisis in London by London Higher’s AccessHE division reveals the cost of living crisis is constraining higher education choices for prospective students in London, even if it isn’t causing them to opt out of university study altogether.  

The report, based on a series of focus groups with students planning to start university, found that while the majority still intend to pursue higher education, many feel they have to study locally rather than move away due to financial pressures. 

“What we are seeing is a weakening of the traditional student-provider relationship,” said Dr Richard Boffey, Head of AccessHE, London Higher. “Incoming students seem more apathetic, many seeing university in purely transactional terms – a means to employment rather than an enriching experience they are enthusiastic about. This is concerning particularly because young Londoners have historically pursued higher education out of genuine enthusiasm. Our findings indicate that these positive attitudes are on the brink of shifting.” 

Key impacts may include more students expecting to work part-time, as already shown to be the case through this year’s HEPI/Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey data, and scepticism about whether degrees will lead to employment in the current economic climate. 

Student choice is a key element of widening participation work and is supposed to sit at the heart of the current higher education system. While not representative of all prospective London students, the report suggests the cost of living crisis could undermine longstanding efforts to widen access to higher education and erode the university experience for those who do attend. 

Alongside engaging prospective students, the report surveys higher education providers in London to understand what is being done currently, and what more could be done in future, to alleviate financial worries for students, including prior to commencing higher education study and during the transition to university. It finds a wide range of encouraging initiatives already in place, including several measures specifically targeting the most vulnerable student groups.  

More can be done, however to monitor and assess which groups of students are being dissuaded from university by the cost of living and a coordinated approach is needed when it comes to presenting information about the costs of study in the capital to young Londoners. If this action is accompanied by swift efforts on the part of the incoming Government to address the maintenance loan shortfall, then it is not too late to correct course and ensure the next Parliament sees continued widening of participation in higher education.        


Notes for editors 

  1. The report is available at: