Working-class university students face "poverty premium"

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A report published today by the National Union of Students (NUS) has found that students from working-class backgrounds are more likely to pay more for their degree and feel isolated than their wealthier peers. 

Students from working-class backgrounds face more debt than some of their coursemates, with their total living costs often exceeding their maintenance loan. The difference in expenditure, dubbed a "poverty premium" by the NUS, particularly targets the parents of students, who cannot afford to subsidise their children whilst also paying for necessities such as food and heating. 

Consequently, these students tend to feel isolated from the rest of the student community, the NUS found, leading to a higher dropout rate amongst students from working-class backgrounds due to financial concerns. 

It suggests that accommodation fees are often unaffordable for those on maintenance loans, as many universities raise rents above inflation to generate income.

"This pricing policy risks segregating working-class students in lower-cost accommodation from others who have access to additional funds from their families,” says the report, titled “Class Dismissed: Getting in and Getting on in Further and Higher Education”.

The report also suggests that working-class students struggle to find a guarantor to rent a property in the private sector, and are forced to use private schemes with higher interest rates and fees. One student at the University of East Anglia claimed that they had to find an extra £700 a year on top of their maintenance loan to pay for their accommodation. Further to a freedom of information request by the University of East Anglia Students’ Union, cited in the report, more than 20 universities generated more than £1,000 profit per bed space a year.

In England, the top bracket maintenance loan for students living away from home outside London is £8,430 for the 2017-18 academic year.

Oxford and Cambridge are particular culprits in this discrepancy, with numerous access courses, run by the two universities to further equality in the sector, often requiring students to pay an additional year of fees to gain qualifications.

To remedy the situation, the NUS calls for an introduction of a minimum living income for students in further and higher education, and recommends the restoration of maintenance grants, the education maintenance allowance (EMA), and NHS bursaries for healthcare students.

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