Surge in number of students experiencing serious financial problems since 2019, survey shows

Accommodation is single largest source of expenditure, with average monthly rents reaching €469 a month

One third of students are experiencing 'serious' financial problems, according to a major survey of students in higher education. Photograph: iStock

One-third of students in universities and colleges are experiencing “serious” financial problems, according to a new survey.

Accommodation is the single largest source of expenditure among students in higher education, with average monthly rents reaching €469 a month, up from €415 when the last survey was conducted in 2019.

The scale of financial hardship is highlighted as a “cause for concern” in the Eurostudent report, published by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), which surveyed more than 21,000 students about their social and living conditions.

The volume of students experiencing serious financial difficulties (33 per cent) is up significantly compared to the report’s findings in 2019 (26 per cent).

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The overall average monthly income for all students was €1,122, while average monthly expenditure was €1,340.

For large numbers of students, expenditure exceeds income with most reliant on financial support from their family or, in the case of older students, their partners to fill this gap.

The survey found that most full-time students are working in paid jobs during term time (57 per cent), with female students more likely to have a job than male students.

Students who do not work during term-time are more likely to receive funding from their parents.

Students with jobs said they spent an average of 17 hours a week in employment. Most students said they worked to cover living costs and about half of full-time students agreed they would not be able to afford to study without their job.

The impact of the pandemic has also left its mark on the student population.

A majority (59 per cent) said the Covid-19 pandemic had a negative impact on their motivation at a time when many lectures switched online.

Part-time students, postgraduate students and older students were more likely to report that the pandemic had no impact on their motivation.

Similarly, a majority (58 per cent) expect a negative impact of the pandemic on their mental health.

Female students were more likely to report such an impact, while younger students were more likely to report negative expectations of the impact of the pandemic on their mental health.

Despite these findings, students overall appear to be relatively happy. A majority (56 per cent) say they are either happy or extremely happy, while 3 per cent say that they are extremely unhappy.

When asked about the amount of time spend spent on personal study, postgraduate students on average spent longer (almost 25 hours per week) compared to undergraduates (18 hours).

Students choosing colleges closer to homeOpens in new window ]

The study also confirms findings of research elsewhere which shows that higher levels of parental education and wealth correspond with direct entry into higher education.

Ireland has a low rate of students taking part in a temporary study abroad. Just 4 per cent have done so, while 5 per cent are preparing for a study period abroad.

Finances, time away from family and language competence are most cited barriers.

Overall, the study finds that the number of students enrolled in Irish higher education has increased by 6 per cent since 2019.

The greatest proportion of students are full-time, domestic undergraduates under 23 years of age.

In a foreword to the report, HEA chief executive, Dr Alan Wall, said there was a need to better respond to the learning needs of all citizens through more flexible programmes along with new entry and progression pathways.

“Promoting access to higher education for disadvantaged groups will be particularly important in order to meet the high-level skills needs of employers as Irish enterprise moves up the value-chain,” he said.

“Enhancing the internationalisation of higher education is also a national priority for Ireland as a small, open European economy and improving the rate of outward mobility of Irish staff and students will be an essential part of this.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent