The decline in the level of grant has in turn led to a decline in the amount of money students spend in university and college bookshops. Now, with the new term just a couple of weeks away, two of Britain's best-known bookshop chains have launched their biggest student marketing campaigns.
Dillons and Blackwells have both spent more than pounds 100,000 to attract students. And, most notably, they are not plugging their range of academic texts in their campaigns, but offers of cash and other incentives to ease student hardship.
The incentives also have a "lifestyle" element to them. Dillons, for example, is offering a reinforced bag to all students, containing free pens and beer mats, while Blackwells is giving away 30,000 free cans of baked beans.
Among the cash incentives, Dillons offers a pounds 5 discount for spending pounds 20. The chain is also launching a competition with the winning student receiving pounds 2,000 towards his or her maintenance grant, and Blackwells has a competition for students to win up to pounds 1,500 worth of supermarket vouchers.
Jane Carr, Dillons promotions manager, said: "Our market research reinforced the idea that students have a very limited budget and there are a lot of things competing for it. This is the main reason why we have switched our marketing strategy from selling book ranges to students to selling our value for money. It is important that we tell students that we identify with them and want to help."
She added that with the decline in levels of grant "the days of students buying 20 books at any one time have gone. They are being very choosy now in what they buy. Ten years ago they would have bought the whole of the recommended reading list. Now they are swayed much more by specific recommendations from their lecturers."
A spokeswoman for the National Union of Students said latest figures showed that on average students spent pounds 420 a year on books, which was still a sizeable amount; but books in courses such as law and medicine had become very expensive. She added that an NUS survey of students who took up paid employment in term-time found that a third of them said one of the reasons they did so was to buy books."