Up to 34% of A-level students are considering living at home if they get into their preferred university next week, according to new UCL and Sutton Trust research, using data from the COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities (COSMO) study,
Led jointly by the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) and the Sutton Trust, the COSMO study is tracking the lives of more than 11,000 young people in England who took A-level exams and other qualifications this summer.
Published today as a briefing, this new research shows that 20% of the ‘class of 2023’ plan to live at home during term time if they are successful in getting into their preferred university next week, while a further 14% have not yet decided if they’ll move to their university.
Disadvantaged students are particularly impacted, as families facing financial challenges expect to struggle to support a child living away from home. Young people from families who used a foodbank in the last year were much less likely to apply for university at all, and those that did apply for university were much more likely to plan on living at home (31% vs 19% for those that did not use a foodbank). The same was true for those from families who are behind with their housing payments (33% vs 17%). This comes at a time when student maintenance support in England will rise by less than 3% this September, well below inflation, putting further pressure on student finances.
The research also found young people from working class families are much less likely to want to go to a prestigious Russell Group university than those whose parents hold professional or managerial positions (36% vs 50%), with similar differences for young people planning to live at home compared to those looking to move away (32% vs 51%). While the right choice for many young people, living at home during term does place a limit on the available choice of university — along with the full educational and cocurricular opportunities on offer from living on campus — so it is important to avoid this being driven by family financial circumstances.
COSMO is the largest study examining the impacts of the pandemic on young people. The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) rapid response to COVID-19.
Among students who plan to live at home, about one fifth said this is because they could not afford to live away, and just one fifth because their preferred university was near their home. 46% said the main reason was because they wanted — or needed — to remain near to their families. For example, for those with caring responsibilities, moving away is more difficult.
The study also looked at those who did not intend to apply for university at all. Of this group, 22% cited not being able to afford it as a factor in their decision. Young people from families that had used a food bank in the last year were much more likely to indicate that they could not afford to attend university, and consequently were not going to apply.
Attitudes to higher education among the Class of 2023 were mixed. While almost three quarters felt that doing a degree leads to getting a better paid job (73%), less than half (48%) viewed student loans as a good investment.
The research authors highlight that the study reinforces the case for the reintroduction of maintenance grants for those from disadvantaged households.
Dr Jake Anders, Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), and COSMO’s Principal Investigator, said: “It is concerning that young people, more likely to be from less well-off backgrounds, are curbing their educational choices because of worries about the cost. For some planning on going to university, living at home will be the right choice for them, for a whole host of reasons. But it should be exactly that — a choice — not something they feel they must do because of the financial challenges of living away from home during term time. Student support has not kept up with the rising cost of living, this should be urgently addressed so we do not close down opportunities, especially to those who are already likely to have fewer.”
Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “These research findings highlight the difficult decisions many young people face as they weigh up their future. Young people from disadvantaged families are less likely to apply to university and are less likely to live away from home if they do apply, limiting their university choice.
“The Sutton Trust is calling for the government to reintroduce maintenance grants so that disadvantaged young people can study away from home and benefit from the full university experience.”