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Seven in ten students consider dropping out – How can universities fix this gloomy statistic?

  • 2 March 2023
  • By Leo Hanna

This blog was kindly contributed by Leo Hanna, Executive Vice President at TechnologyOne

Cost-of-living and student welfare have dominated the UK headlines of late, with the cost of food, energy and accommodation outpacing maintenance support. After so many students have already missed out on much of the traditional university experience during the pandemic, they are now feeling the pinch as the cost of living spirals. 

To better understand what such financial pressure meant for students’ university experience, we worked with Opinium to survey a representative sample of more than 1,000 university students across the UK.[1] 

The picture painted wasn’t pretty. The data show seven-in-ten students have considered dropping out of higher education since starting their degree. Nearly two-fifths of those gave rising living costs as the main reason, while 69% of all students admitted to adjusting their spending over the last term because of the rising cost of living. 

Half of students reported having to cut back on eating out and nights out (54% and 50%), more than a third are cutting back on heating (36%), while a third are reducing their spending on basic groceries. In addition to maintenance loans, more than half of students (52%) now report having a full or part-time job to fund their ‘basic lifestyle’ at university and afford their rent, utilities and food. Overall, more than half of students (54%) claimed that rising costs are ‘ruining’ their university experience.

To understand better the financial pressure students are under, we also wanted to find out whether they are better or worse off than the rest of the population? We create a ‘student inflation basket’ based on the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) CPI inflation basket of goods and services. We then mapped it onto UCAS’s Freshers Report 2022 to identify the categories of goods and services applicable to students, such as food and drink, clothing and footwear and study materials, as well as weightings for how much is typically spent in each category.

This revealed that students have seen their cost of living rise by 12.3% over the past year, about a fifth more than the price rises felt by the general public (10.25%). The biggest price increases include pasta (61%), milk (50%) and frozen vegetables (32%), while books and study materials saw a 13% increase. The cost of leisure activities has also surged. The price of a ticket to Glastonbury Festival has gone up by 26%, while takeaways are on average 13% more expensive than the previous year.

Worrying data to say the least, so how can universities go about fixing these gloomy statistics particularly when they are under inflationary and staffing pressure themselves? 

When we consider the effect the cost-of-living crisis is having on student retention – and what that means for university’s revenue and reputation – it is crucial for universities to have mechanisms in place to spot at risk students. Modernising the way they communicate and interact with their students is key to being able to offer strong support and to spot early warning signs before struggling students risk walking away from their academic studies. 

Progressive organisations recognise that digital transformation is the key to solving these challenges. Smart solutions better support the administrative and pastoral needs of universities and their students. Our Software-as-Service solution for example provides higher education leaders with real-time, holistic data-driven insights. We know that investing in smart technology and analysing the right timely data can be transformative in helping universities identify and intervene when students are struggling – financially and emotionally – and ultimately helping them stay the course.

I’d like to end this post on a positive note, as the data showed not all was doom and gloom. One of the positives highlighted in the research was a large majority of students (69%) were happy with the split of online versus in-person classes they have scheduled this year, showing universities’ approach to blended learning in a post pandemic era is hitting the mark.

We know the last few years have had a profound impact on the higher education sector, but innovation often thrives under pressure, and now is the time for universities to be agile and embrace smart new technologies to gain an edge.

We plan to explore emerging trends and challenges in the higher education industry with international experts and some of the UK’s pre-eminent thought leaders at our TechnologyOne Showcase in London on Thursday, 27 April 2023. Find out more about TechnologyOne’s higher education solution.

TechnologyOne is a global Software as a Service (SaaS) company. Founded in Australia, we have offices across six countries. Our enterprise SaaS solution transforms business and makes life simple for our customers by providing powerful, deeply integrated enterprise software that is incredibly easy to use. Over 1,200 leading corporations, government departments and statutory authorities are powered by our software.  

Our global SaaS solution provides deep functionality for the markets we serve, including local government and higher education in the UK. For these markets we invest significant funds each year in R&D. We also take complete responsibility to market, sell, implement, support and run our solutions for our customers, which reduce time, cost and risk.


  1. David Law says:

    The subject is of major importance but I suggest that it is reassuring, in some ways, that “seven-in-ten students have considered dropping out of HE”. For all of us, it has become a ‘conventional wisdom’ that secondary should be followed, where possible, by higher education. We want students to take the commitment seriously. Sometimes, education based on experience has more impact. Let’s remember that across the sector, after two years of UG study, only 6% actually ‘drop out’.

  2. albert wright says:

    An interesting way to advertise your business.

    David law is right to point out the difference between thinking of dropping out and actually doing it.

    In reality there is no great crisis and despite the selective statistics, most undergraduates are in a better / happier / safer position than many of their contemporaries.

    My heart bleeds to hear “The cost of leisure activities has also surged. The price of a ticket to Glastonbury Festival has gone up by 26%, while takeaways are on average 13% more expensive than the previous year.” Poor rich students!

    There are plenty of part time job opportunities in most University towns and cities that would help boost student incomes and enable them to get good, practical experience of the world to lessen the pain of rising prices faced by them and the rest of the population.

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