Viewers who often watch Western TV series are likely familiar with the concept of “food banks.” These relief stations provide food aid for low-income groups, people temporarily facing economic difficulties, and even homeless individuals.
Who would have thought that the food banks originally designed to provide assistance for those in financial hardship are now facing a “new customer base” in countries such as the UK and Australia – university students. The somewhat “undignified” relief station food has even been in such high demand among university students that supplies can’t keep up with demand.
Not long ago, Study Abroad Guru shared a story about “financial cutoff” for international students:
Three siblins, originally from a well-off family, were all studying in high school and college in the US. However, due to the impact of the pandemic on their family business, the three siblings had to sell their belongings, sleep on sofas, and resort to other money-saving methods to continue their studies, and even had to return to China to take the college entrance examination.
Under the global economic downturn, this is not an isolated case. As the cost of living continues to rise, university students in countries such as the UK, US, and Australia are choosing to skip meals, skip medication, and even face the risk of dropping out due to financial pressure. In addition to Chinese international students, European and American university students are also experiencing a “supply disruption.”
University students who cannot even afford to eat
are considering dropping out
According to The Observer, in the top 24 universities of the Russell Group in the UK, which represents the most elite higher education institutions in the UK, including Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, KCL, and the University of Edinburgh, among others, one-fifth of students are considering dropping out, and one-quarter of students frequently lack food and other necessities.
It’s worth noting that the Russell Group represents the highest level of higher education in the UK and is equivalent to China’s “985 Project” and “211 Project.” The latest research from the Russell Group shows that soaring prices have a “destructive” impact on universities, and only the wealthiest students can avoid being affected.
More than half of the surveyed students said that the cost of living seriously affects their studies and grades. Students have to do extra part-time jobs to subsidize their lives; malnutrition and financial pressure make it difficult for them to concentrate and keep up with their studies; and some students even skip classes because they cannot afford transportation costs.
According to recent statistics, the percentage of students considering dropping out due to financial difficulties has surged to 30%, particularly among economically disadvantaged groups. Only those students whose families earn over £75,000 annually have seen a decrease in the proportion of dropouts.
Sophie Bush, a 20-year-old studying at University College London (UCL), had dreams of pursuing a Master’s and PhD, but is now seriously contemplating dropping out due to the overwhelming financial burden. She has taken on a part-time job as a waitress in hopes of making it through the year, but has little optimism for the future. “I am on the verge of breaking down, I’ve shed a lot of tears for money,” she says.
Rising living costs have not only affected local students, but international students as well. International students are limited to working no more than 20 hours per week, making their options for self-sufficiency even more limited.
According to a report by BBC News, the number of students applying for financial aid has almost doubled compared to the pre-pandemic year. Additionally, the amount of aid distributed to students last year almost doubled as well.
Sampson, a student studying at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, initially failed in her application for financial aid. In times of great hardship, she had to resort to stealing food from a supermarket. Although she later received aid, she still struggles to overcome the psychological impact of the experience.
In Australia, University students are lining up for food relief. Inflation and rising prices have affected Australia as well. Official data shows that the annual wage growth rate increased from 3.2% in the September quarter to 3.3% in the December quarter, but it still falls far short of the 7.8% inflation rate.
At the University of New South Wales, students queue around the corner for basic groceries. Similarly, at the University of Queensland, a member of the Group of Eight, the demand for free dinners has doubled, with nearly 2,000 students lining up each week.
The food bank at Queensland University of Technology provided food to around 900 students last year. However, in just the first two months of this semester, they have already helped more than 1,000 students.
Eating, housing, transportation – they have all become obstacles to learning. Some students with health problems cannot even afford essential medication.
“Healthy eating” has become a thing of the past, as many students only eat one meal a day and survive on instant noodles. Without a quality of life, survival is all that remains.
Is the cost-performance ratio too low?
Americans are skipping college altogether
The same economic hardship is happening in the US, and the situation is even more negative – young Americans are choosing to give up college.
Before the pandemic, for many American high school students, college was an essential part of their lives, an unquestionable transit station. But the pandemic changed that.
“Why should I spend all my money just to buy a useless diploma?”
This is the voice of young people who have given up going to college, and there are hundreds of thousands of them in the US. Some have chosen jobs that do not require a degree, while others have been forced to give up college due to high tuition fees and student loans.
This phenomenon began to emerge in 2020, and at first, everyone thought it was a temporary “side effect” of the pandemic. But three years have passed, the pandemic has gradually subsided, and the economic chill has not stopped, even becoming more severe, and the situation where Americans are not going to college has evolved into a “higher education crisis.”
From 2019 to 2022, the undergraduate enrollment rate in the United States dropped by 8% nationwide. Even after offline teaching resumed, the enrollment rate continued to decline. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the decline in enrollment rates from 2018 to the present is the most severe in history.
Even among those who have already enrolled in college, many have chosen to drop out of this “money game.” According to data from the National Student Exchange Research Center, the number of students who obtained a bachelor’s degree last year fell by 1.6%, the first decline in ten years.
The new generation of young Americans no longer trusts the value of a college degree.
The Asciated Press has interviewed educators, researchers, and students dozens of times and found this to be the “generation that is tired of college.” Many people said that they did not learn anything in college and that several years of college were meaningless.
Students face great economic pressure, and tuition fees at American universities have continued to rise in recent years, and student loan debts have also risen.
Is it a choice to bear the huge student loan debt for life or to choose the job opportunity at hand that does not require a degree? At this crossroads, more and more young Americans are choosing the latter.
This does not mean that young people have given up on continuing their education. On the contrary, technical training certificates are becoming increasingly popular. In the US job market, there has always been a shortage of “blue-collar” technical positions, so this is also a way out.
Williams was once the favorite type of “good student” in college, and he got an A in his prerequisite courses and smoothly entered college to study until his junior year. During the pandemic, when the school asked students to take online courses, he gave up college and started learning a craft.
After Graduating from University, How Long Does It Take to Recoup Your Costs?
The cost-benefit of going to university is a topic that has been a long-standing concern all over the world. Regardless of the importance of higher education in one’s personal growth, from a pragmatic perspective, most people will silently calculate the costs and benefits of attending university and wonder what advantages they will have after graduation.
This is a practical problem and an inevitable topic. In the UK, the average expected salary of undergraduates is £30,244. This salary expectation is not something that students simply expect to be handed to them. After graduation, they will no longer be able to rely on their parents’ support, and will have to bear various living expenses, face student loans, and consider the cost of attending university.
Currently, the UK is facing a double whammy of an employment crisis and historically high inflation rates. The average salary that employers can offer is over £5,000 lower than what undergraduates expect to earn.
Under the pressure of high living costs and lower-than-expected salary levels, 58% of students say that their concerns about money seriously affect their mental health. Graduating smoothly is difficult, and surviving after graduation is even more challenging.
In the domestic study abroad community, discussions about the cost-benefit of studying abroad are not uncommon: spending millions of yuan on studying abroad, but having a low-paying job after graduation. Even students who take the traditional college entrance examination route are constantly reflecting under employment pressure: Is a university degree a heavyweight bargaining chip for employment, or is it a “long robe” that cannot be taken off like Kong Yiji?
Although the cost of attending university in China is not as high as studying abroad, regardless of where they study, every university student carries decades of training costs and the hope of their family’s support. Before attending university, everyone happily tells their children that once they go to university, everything will be easy, and the road ahead will be smooth. But when they are thrown into the cruel job market, how can we bear to coldly tell them that they need to learn how to take off the “long robe” of contemporary Kong Yiji?
Like university students in the UK, the US, Australia, and other countries, this is a common predicament faced by young people around the world. There is still a lot that society can do to bridge the gap between campus and the job market, reverse biases against technical trades, improve the employment environment, reshape the positioning of higher education, and focus on the true value of higher education. We should not just blame recent graduates for unfairness in society.