We are pleased to release the findings of our cost-of-living research, funded by Sport England.

The report covers the views of higher education students and staff and looks at how student behaviours have changed in the face of rising costs. We surveyed 2,334 students and 80 university staff across 140 higher education institutions, and conducted focus groups and interviews with 16 students and Sabbatical Officers.

The cost-of-living crisis has touched nearly everyone living in the UK, including students in higher education. In this report, BUCS highlights how higher education sport and physical activity have been affected by the ongoing UK cost-of-living situation and how students’ engagement in sport and physical activity will be affected in the coming years.

We identified five key themes in this research, covered in further detail in the report:

  1. Everyone has been squeezed. Every group – institutions, clubs, students, BUCS – has been hit by rising costs, so support is more limited than it might be otherwise. Transport has been particularly hard-hit, and groups have had to share these costs.
  2. Some protective factors helped students stay engaged. These include: having a well-paying job with flexible and limited hours, receiving financial and/or practical support from family, and attending an institution with sufficient resources that priorities sport. Unfortunately, we found that demographics worked against students in some cases: Black/Black British students and students with a disability were more likely to see their ability to be physically active negatively impacted by rising costs.
  3. Students are making a value assessment about sport. While some students have been priced out of sport and physical activity altogether, many have some disposable income and are actively deciding what they considered value for money. This process has always occurred but is exacerbated by rising costs, causing students to scrutinise expenditure more carefully.
  4. Transparency and fairness matter. Students are questioning why institutions’ prices for sport and physical activity are rising so sharply; in the absence of explanations, some attribute motivations such as greed. However, when staff explain the realities of budgets to students, they are more likely to appreciate what their institutions are doing to help them stay active.
  5. Sense of belonging and sport culture have taken a hit. The COVID pandemic brought higher education sport to a halt for over a year. The culture and sense of belonging sport provides students took a hit as incoming students didn’t get to experience the full benefits. Higher education sport is working hard to recover, but the cost-of-living crisis has prevented students from fully engaging in this recovery.

The picture of higher education sport presented in this report is of a resilient sector, but one that will likely face tough challenges going forward. Institutions, clubs, and students alike have found creative solutions to rising costs and stagnant budgets, but inflation remains stubborn and many funding pots have been exhausted, suggesting that the 2023-24 year will not be smooth sailing.

The full report along with recommendations for higher education institutions and BUCS can be found below.


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