Socialist Worker

Working for a degree

Students are already struggling under a mountain of debt, thanks to New Labour abolishing grants and introducing tuition fees. Students at Manchester University and Manchester Metropolitan University explain how tripling the cost of courses under the g

Issue No. 1883

ALAN HOWARD - FIRST YEAR

'I've only been here a few weeks and I'm already £300 into my overdraft. I am relying a lot on the limited bursary I get from the physics department here.

I know it's going to get much worse. Both my sisters went to university and they had debts of over £10,000 when they left. They are still struggling to pay it off. I'm looking at at least £10,000 debt. This is before top-up fees come in. There's talk of the limit for loans being extended.

But that will just mean more debt. What we need is some money to live on.

The whole system will restrict access to university only to those who can pay. Students from really rich families will not worry about the fees. Their parents will just pay them.

If you look at what that means for society as a whole it will keep the poor poor and the rich rich. It is the exact opposite of redistribution to help people from working class backgrounds.

My mum works in a school kitchen and my dad works for Sunderland council. Having to pay £3,000 a year over three years in fees won't encourage young people where I come from to go to college.

Yet, I suppose I'm the kind of person Blair claims that top up fees will help.'


HUSSEIN MOIN - THIRD YEAR

'The best way of putting it is that I am a full time call centre slave and a part time student-although the course is full time and the call centre work means doing the hours of one and a half jobs.

Quite a lot of the call centre workers, who do telesales, are students or people who have just graduated and have to do something to pay off their debts.

I've worked about 50 hours a week for some of this term. You have to take the shifts they offer you, because if you turn too many down they'll cut you off their books. I'm doing so many hours because I just can't face being really deeply in debt when I finish my course. I've seen debt wreck friends and family.

The tutors are sympathetic. But there is only so far they can go when you end up missing so much college work, being constantly late with essays and so on.

This year I've got my finals. It's the point where you are supposed to really get your head down and ensure you get a good degree.

The poverty and the fees have ruined that chance for me. Last week I was having to leave here mid-afternoon to get to work. I was getting home about 11 at night. Then I worked almost all the weekend.

I'll still have £5,000 debt at the end of this year. If the top-up fees came in I think a lot of people like me would either not go to college or try and flog themselves to death rather than get so deeply into the red.'


ROSANNA BREAKS - FIRST YEAR

'I managed to get six weeks work over the summer. So I'm not doing too badly at the end of this term.

But I know a lot of people who are already in serious trouble. And when you talk to second and third years, it's a nightmare. There are some first year students here who are already £1,500 in debt. I've got £100 left until the end of the year.

My dad's a physics lecturer and my mum's a lab technician. They are not actually well paid jobs. But that means I get £500 less than the full student loan. It means my loan is not enough to cover my accommodation and I've got to borrow the money directly from the bank. The interest rates are different, but both lots have to be paid back.

The government says we should pay, because we will benefit from going to university. But we didn't pay for the rest of the education system through fees. It was paid for by taxation, with the richest paying the most-or at least that's how it's supposed to work.

You benefit from the NHS if you're sick. You wouldn't expect to be charged for going to hospital, because the treatment benefits you. We pay for it as a whole society.

The government says it wants people to stay on at school and study for A-levels. But then it tells them they will be looking at tens of thousands of pounds of debt if they go to university.

It only makes sense when you see that they are trying to get as much money out of people as possible.'


DAVE WOODS - SECOND YEAR

'I have two part time jobs-one in a bar and one shelf-stacking at a supermarket.

That's the kind of work you end up with because you are at college during the day. Well, I say that but there's always a lot of pressure to skip college and take a couple of extra day time shifts.

I'm working something like 55 hours a week in those two jobs. It means everything else goes out the window and you end up not being able to do your coursework properly. I've missed a lot of lectures and evening seminars because of work. Of course, you can catch up, but you are constantly behind.

And you are still building up debts. I owe £4,000 already. The pressure is huge. You just end up feeling miserable. I've considered dropping out of college.

I know people who have become clinically depressed. None of the government had to go through this to get their degrees. Why should we?

I'd like to be a teacher. But that would mean another year at university and another year of debt. I think I'd be on something like £17,000 when I started working in school. So I'd be paying back my loans just at the same time as getting into the really big debt trap of getting your own flat.

What they are doing with fees and top-up fees is making you a prisoner of the system at the age of 18 rather than 21.'


CHRISTINE GROVER - FIRST YEAR

'I spend 20 hours a week working in Primark. That eats into time to study. It takes up any free time you might have at the weekend.

Other people I know are working longer hours, nights and the like. You see people completely knackered in lectures-sometimes falling asleep.

I'm still struggling, despite having a part time job.

They calculate your parents' earnings at the beginning of the year to decide how much loan you're entitled to and what fees you pay. I imagine it will be the same if top-up fees come in.

But my stepmum has just had cancer and my dad went part time half way through the year to help look after her and my two younger sisters.

So he is in no position to help out financially. None of that's taken into account.'


ANNA SOUTHERN - FIRST YEAR

'You just hand your student loan cheque straight over to pay for accommodation.

Or rather you end up getting a huge overdraft from the bank at the beginning of term to pay the rent up front and only later in the term does the student loan arrive.

Then you have the fees to pay. I just see myself sinking deeper into debt. I know people who have two or more part time jobs and they are working 60 hours a week. When you add it up, even that amount of work on close to minimum wage still means building up debts. That will be worse if fees are tripled.

And it's not true that graduates automatically go into high paid jobs. Most of us don't. The government is saying that £15,000 is well paid. But I don't see ministers or MPs working for anything as little as that."


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News
Sat 10 Jan 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1883
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