The Government has been urged to take action to create an accessible education system amid a rising cost-of-living crisis that is hitting university students hard.
The #LiveableNHSBursary campaign has begun on Twitter, with medical students sharing the financial realities of studying.
Complaints from students in England and Wales regarding their university courses reached a record high last year. Grievances ranged from the delivery of courses to demands for full compensation for a university year that did not reflect the fees.
Worsened by Covid pandemic restrictions, “some students found that they weren’t getting the learning experiences that they reasonably expected” said the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).
Research by the National Union of Students (NUS) has shown that 20 percent of students did not think that they would be able to pay their rent and essential bills, with 3 in 4 students anxious about paying their rent this term.
NUS had called for the government to take urgent action in 2020[HB2] following their research, to create a lifelong, funded, accessible and democratic education system. However, issues have persisted, with total number of complaints submitted in 2021 being 6 percent higher than the previous year.
An NUS official has said the high number of complaints was “no surprise” and students were “at breaking point”. ‘Digital poverty’ was a big issue for some students and many others were struggling financially – with some using food banks and buy-now-pay-later loans for support.
Medical students hit hard
Medical students, who typically have longer teaching hours, are some of the worst hit students by the escalating cost-of-living crisis. Many medical students say they are unable to prioritise their studies as they are having to work part-time jobs to make ends meet.
The #LiveableNHSBursary campaign was founded by four medical students, who wanted to raise awareness of the financial realities of studying and explain why NHS bursaries are simply not enough.
The NHS bursary provides eligible full-time undergraduate students with a non-means-tested grant of £1,000 and a means-tested grant of up to £3,191 for those living in London in their fifth and sixth year of study.
This means that medical students living away from home in the capital will see their income drop to a maximum of £7,545 in their clinical years of study, when they spend the majority of their time on placement.
This group are disproportionately affected as medical students have more teaching time compared to the average student, often finding themselves working up to 40 hours a week when on placement – without pay.
One medical association representative said students were being “forced to choose between eating or passing finals”.
The government said there were hardship grants in place for those struggling the most. However, Government plans to ‘level-up’ education has seen money targeted at areas outside the capital, overlooking students facing the highest average living costs.
However, The British Medical Association (BMA), a group which represents medical students, has accused the government of simply not doing enough.
Khadija Meghrawi, co-chair of the BMA medical students committee, said: “It is deeply worrying that students are facing financial hardship because the support they are given during their degree is not enough to pay for their basic needs.”
The Doctor’s Association UK has laid out the changes it would like to see implemented, including “immediate access to full maintenance loans” and travel and accommodation expense reimbursement brought in line with the rising cost of living.
It would also like to see medical students given access to the NHS Learning Support Fund, which is available to other healthcare students, allowing all medical students to receive a £5,000 non-means tested grant, rather than the £1,000 grant they receive currently.
Students across the UK are having to face the reality of choosing between prioritising their studying or working to alleviate their financial hardship.
Students without family support or financial independence often also miss out during the summer periods too, when their peers can further their education through conferences, studying and unpaid shadowing opportunities. Many students work through the summer to compensate for the year ahead.
With degrees such as Medicine, a highly intensive and stressful course, students often must prioritise earnings over relaxing with friends at the evenings and weekends. This is just another way their education and well-being are compromised.