Recently, much has been made of disadvantaged students in the press. I’m not ashamed to say I’m one of them- currently, I receive the maximum maintence loan and grant payments from the student loans company. I received £60 combined from each parent on the very first day of uni, and made my own way from there.
I’m in the third year of my degree, and have landed myself a comfortable part time job in the student union, working 13 hours a week. Thanks to the student loans company, I could splash out on a new laptop, pay rent and buy textbooks at the start of term. Thanks to my job, I can do my food shopping. I’m more fortunate than some- I’ve friends with maxed out credit cards as well as the student loan, living off sales they’ve made on eBay.
Some argue that it’s possible for the average student to live comfortably off the maitenence grant and loan for three month stints at a time. There’s some truth in this- when I first moved to uni, the loan was the most money I’d ever been in possession of. Some of us went a bit mad. But now we’re in third year, we’ve all sobered up, and as we edge closer to the end of the student bubble, we’re starting to face up to the prospect of starting life below zero. By this, I’m referring to the debt that we accrue whilst at uni- the debts that’ll loom over our heads before and after we reach the £15,000 threshold to start making payments, as well as the student overdraft that we’ll spend our graduate summer paying off.
Last week, my university society took part in a debate with Conservative Futures. They argued that different fees for different courses will ‘increase flexibility’ for students. Positive talk of these plans are, put simply, incredulous. Quite the contrary – these plans will leave us disadvantaged types stuck. The idea of choosing a degree based on price rather than passion is elitist in the extreme. Forget social mobility. The level playing ground will be the bumpiest course yet.
I came to uni primarily because I’d had a taste of the minimum wage life, and I didn’t want to live it forever. I can only speak for myself when I talk of an overwhelming fear of working towards nothing- but I’m sure there’s some students who feel the same. We’re all too aware of the prospect of being spat out into a job market with no space for us.
This Wednesday, students will march in central London to protest about the proposed rise in tutition fees. We won’t just be marching for ourselves- the fee increase won’t affect us just yet, that’ll take place in 2012.
We’ll be marching because we’re angry that graduate unemployement is the highest it’s been for 17 years. We’ll be marching in indignation and disgust at the fact the the very same people who promise us that ‘we’re all in this together’ benefited quite nicely from their own free higher education – lest we forget, at least in England, tution fees were only introduced 12 years ago. We’ll be marching because when we do attempt to break into our fields of interest, there’s a high chance we’ll be exploited by companies who expect graduates to work for free (endearingly called interships) for any time spanning from six months to a year, with no guarantee of a job at the end of the tunnel. We’ll be marching for our younger sisters and brothers- for all teenagers, whose university aspirations are becoming less and less likely. We’ll be marching because the coalition’s ‘fair’ rhetoric isn’t washing with us.