Late nights, followed by days of bleary-eyed reading in the library. And if you made it through a Friday morning lecture, you were considered conscientious.
The world of university means hedonism, spending student loans and grants frivolously, not taking life too seriously. Or at least it used to.
For the young cohort now, that’s not a reality.
The 18 to 21-year-olds enrolled today have already had to grapple with a multitude of harsh realities, from the pandemic to the fallout of the Ukraine-Russia war. But now, the cost of living crisis is completely overhauling their lives.
Some students have resorted to using food banks, taking multiple jobs, or taking out loans to survive. While being skint felt like a natural part of student life for many of us, youngsters now are facing a crisis like never before.
In fact, according to research by network Student Beans, 71% of students have stopped socialising as much, with 49% of them skipping a meal. A further 54% said they relied on money from family and or friends.
Four in five students say they have felt personally impacted by the rising cost of food shopping, and almost just as many are altering their habits just to get by.
One in 20 have even started using a food bank.
Other actions taken in response to the rising cost of groceries include increasing use of free food apps like OLIO, rationing food, and buying food from the reduced section to make their money go further.
This is something medical student Penny Sucharitkul, 22, from Leeds, can relate to. She’s noticed how food staples in low-cost supermarkets are bordering on unaffordable.
“Everything has gone up,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I usually shop at Aldi which is the cheapest but the most basic of products have gone up, so baked beans were 30p and have gone up to 90p or £1. Essentials like pasta are also going up. The low cost supermarkets have gone up and students with low budgets have noticed. It’s exhausting.”
As a medical student, Sucharitkul also needs a car to get to placements, which is another added cost. “On top of my insurance, I have to deal with the rising cost of petrol and a few months ago, my car got broke into (they stole my NHS badge and scrubs) and it cost me £110 to fix the locks. And then my rent went up.
“There was no negotiation with the landlord, we’ve been living here for three years, as good tenants, but we were bullied into signing the new contract.”
Sucharitkul can also relate to missing meals. “Most days I skip breakfast as that’s another meal to prepare. I’ve also noticed that lots of my friends aren’t going out as much, socialising is a luxury now, but it should be a basic part of uni.”
In an attempt to mitigate the squeeze, 42% of students have taken on additional part-time work alongside their studies, according to the Student Beans survey, while 14% have started using a credit card.
“I have several jobs and I’ve noticed that I’m getting shorter on money.”
This financial pressure is something Chiara, 20, from Newcastle has felt.
“It has impacted me mostly when buying food and going out with friends. I have several jobs and I’ve noticed that I’m getting shorter on money,” says the student, who chose not to share her surname.
“I feel like I have had to miss out on plans due to the increase in prices.”
Chiara appreciates why things have gone up, but wants more from the government.
“I feel like I understand why it’s going up and some aspects are out of the hands of the government,” she says. “However, I can’t help but feel frustrated that I might need to stop doing some plans or working more in order to balance my money and how I spend it.”
To make matters worse, the government has proposed plans to reform higher education – which would mean stopping students accessing loans if they fail English and Maths GSCEs, plus a requirement to pay back student loans when earning less. This is devastating for students, says president of the National Union of Students, Larissa Kennedy.
She tells HuffPost UK: “At a time where the cost of living is soaring and real earnings are crashing, these classist changes could be the difference between heating and eating. The minister is saddling young people with unimaginable debt for the next forty years of their lives.
“Their plans to introduce minimum eligibility requirements are a further attack on opportunity. They gaslight us with the language of ‘levelling up’ but their proposals are classist, ableist and racist. By seeking to gatekeep education for the most privileged, they are cruelly targeting those from marginalised communities.”
Others also feel the same. Three quarters of young people now have a lack of faith in the government and feel like students have been ignored throughout the crisis.
In light of soaring inflation rates, young people are now calling on the government to better support them, by providing better access to financial support in line with the cost of living (52%), launching a young person’s crisis package (24%), and providing more education on managing finances (17%).
This isn’t just about nights out and frivolity. It’s about protecting the mental health of a generation who’ve already had a tough two-and-a-half years.
“Mixing with other people is good for our mental health, but most people are now just staying in,” says Sucharitkul. “People are studying all day and then going home or to work.”