Cost of Survival

The Cost of Survival: tackling the impact of the cost of living crisis on students in NI

Passed at NUS-USI National Conference 2023.

What’s the issue and how does it affect students? 

The Cost-of-Living Crisis has hit students hard. Students are being forced to work longer hours, and the mental health impact of financial pressure are affecting students’ ability to learn. We have seen the cost of food, transport and accommodation impact on students; so it is important for government, institutions, and SUs to support students across all of these areas. In the context of Northern Ireland, there is:

  • A complete lack of an Executive
  • Reliance on Westminster as we are held in a political stalemate
  • A 40% increase in maintenance loans next year, but no emergency, immediate support
  • Rising costs including public transport, accommodation, energy bills.

What changes would we like to see in society to change this? 

We need to see a shift to:

  • A culture which values education and doesn't use it as a political pawn
  • Student voice in governmental decision-making and a functioning government in Northern Ireland
  • Reformation of the Executive
  • Politicians listening
  • Students to be at the table in Stormont committees, to ensure that the student voice is being heard at every level of government.

Student Poverty is government policy, and this cannot go on. We need action at both an institution and government level to deliver on the basics. We need food on the table. We need a freeze and decrease in our rents. We need a way to get to class that doesn’t put us out of pocket. We need a model where education is more affordable and everyone can access education. And we need more money to survive to another day.

More specifically we think there needs to be in our education system: an apprentice living wage and a baseline universal student income so that all students can thrive in their studies. On campus, toilets should have additional toiletries (period products) to give students extra support. Access to campus gyms should be free of charge.

In students’ housing there should be more student housing co-ops. Broadband is expensive and should be subsidised.


What action could NUS, students and SUs take to work on this?

Both at an individual nations level, and at Westminster we need to be taking demands directly to the doors of government. We need direct action to tackle the costs hitting students and apprentices- whether that is food poverty, costs of travel, rent or any other bills.

For this to happen, we need to organise within our students’ unions to gain active supporters for our campaigns and mobilise students on the ground to feel motivated to take action when and where they can. NUS-USI should lead this collaboration against Stormont inaction, and collaborate with NUS UK with actions where possible.

Impact Assessment 

How does it impact FE students / Apprentices?   

Often ignored and devalued in our profit-driven education system, FE students and Apprentices are victims of a regime of austerity that leaves their needs behind. FE & Apprentices are expected to pay much more than HE counterparts ad income thresholds are low for EMA.

With less financial support available than undergraduate university students, we must unlock their voice to ensure our movement tackles issues felt directly on the ground.

How does it impact on International Students, Postgraduate Students, Part-Time and Mature Students?

We must ensure that any government response to the COL crisis is accessible to everyone in our education system. Whether you are an international student being exploited by a cash-grabbing system, or a parent choosing between textbooks and putting food on their child’s table- we need to see change now.

For International students there are additional impacts. International students require visas for work, which can be costly. In terms of housing, to complete a guarantor form, you need proof of residence in UK – which can create issues in finding appropriate accommodation and can force international students into staying in University accommodation, which can be more costly. For medicine, you have to pay an extra £10,000 for placement fees to cover medical expenses.

How does it impact on black, disabled, LGBT+, trans and women students? 

Students and apprentices who identify within liberation groups need to feel supported and empowered to co-create our campaigns. The COL crisis exacerbates power structures which puts students in dangerous living situations and certain groups may be disproportionately affected, such as migrants, disabled students and trans people reliant on private healthcare.

There are specific costs such as for period products, reproductive healthcare, contraceptives and taxable items.

Trans students may feel unsafe or awkward to ask for period products or buy them for themselves; with non-progressive worldviews in Northern Ireland. There is a particular impact for LGBTQ+ students, who might not have good relationships their parents and might not be able to rely on them for financial security.

Does this apply across the UK or specifically in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland? 

Each nation across the UK may need different solutions to the Cost of Living Crisis, because of the differences in devolved and reserved matters. However, our goal is fundamentally the same- get students the support that they need, when and how they need it.

AMENDMENT 1 to ADD to the policy

Higher and Further Education and  Apprenticeships should be overseen by the Department of Education rather than the Department of Economy.