It was around term two of first year when I received a text from my bank checking it was really me that was spending a ridiculous amount of money online shopping. Yes, yes it was. Except I wasn’t actually browsing the latest sales, I was buying books for my degree. According to the NUS website, the average student spends around £1,070 on books and equipment in the course of their university career. Somewhat naively, this was not something for which I had budgeted. My student loan had all gone on my rent and my savings were dwindling away on food and various other necessities. With the unforeseen cost of social events atop these necessities, I was struggling.
A recent survey conducted by the Boar suggests that this struggle is endemic in the Warwick student population. Out of the 234 that responded to the survey, a staggering 77.1% of students said their loans were spent on rent. Contrary to what seems to be common belief, only 5.3% of students claimed that drinking was where the majority of their loan went. According to NUS statistics, students around England are facing a cost-of-living crisis, with loans and grants simply failing to keep up with rents, bills and other student necessities. Their analysis has revealed that the gap between income and expenditure for the average student is reaching around £7,600. This is resulting in many across the country being forced to work part-time jobs or, in some cases, rely on payday lenders in order to finance their studies.
According to the NUS website, the average student spends around £1,070 on books and equipment in the course of their university career.
Tegan Kropacz, a second-year Law student at the University of Northumbria believes this is creating a class divide within universities. “Richer students live off the ‘Bank of Mum of Dad’. They can eat out all the time and spend money on things the majority of students simply can’t afford.” In order to fund her degree, Tegan has taken on a part-time job. “I work 15 hours a week on top of my law degree to ensure I can live without too much of a struggle, and that’s in a cheap city like Newcastle.”
The Boar’s survey came after The Telegraph published an article claiming that university students spend thousands of pounds on frivolous activities. According to the article, around 30% of students are “wasting” their loans on shopping, drinking, and even cosmetic surgery. A student at the University of Bristol, who wished to remain anonymous, stated, “I don’t really need my student loan as my parents cover my accommodation and send me an allowance over so I do spend it on things people who probably think are a waste of money. I go out a lot and I’ve booked a few holidays with different societies. I do think there’s a class divide, not everyone can afford to do what I do.”
With society balls costing around £45 and foreign tours anywhere between £90-£300, it is easy to see how many students end up missing out due to lack of funds. With 60% of students stating that, aside from rent, food and toiletries constituted their biggest spend, it is clear that for many, social activities are a luxury. The full ‘university experience’ becomes an expensive good, accessible only to the privileged few. A research project conducted in 2013 by The University of Bristol and UWE Bristol revealed that this divide is also largely triggered by accommodation costs, with higher-priced accommodation being taken by those from a wealthier backgrounds, while students from lower income families choose the cheaper options. This leads to a lack of integration between different social backgrounds, perpetuating class divides.
With 60% of students stating that, aside from rent, food and toiletries constituted their biggest spend, it is clear that for many, social activities are a luxury.
The study went on to highlight the discrepancies between the university experiences of students from a working class background and those of their middle-class counterparts, showing that the disadvantages of the latter extend beyond social commitments and extra-curricular activities. Professor of employment research at UWE Bristol Harriet Bradle told the Independent, “some students had a network of connections with relevant professions acquired through family prior to university – along with economic capital which provided a financial buffer during their university career.”
The questionable ‘means testing’ system, through which the government decides the degree of financial support it will offer a student, results in many being left with woefully insufficient loans. Some are forced to seek their parents’ assistance, others have to resort to more extreme measures. Personally, I have had to severely cut down spending on essentials such as food in order to afford transport to and from university. The U1 bus pass alone, a requisite for any Warwick student living in Leamington, costs around £125 per term. When considering whether students ‘waste’ their loans and the rise of student debt, one should consider the Government’s policies on student finance and higher education.
The questionable ‘means testing’ system, through which the government decides the degree of financial support it will offer a student, results in many being left with woefully insufficient loans.
The truth is, there are some who indeed need not rely on their loans and may spend them as they wish. However, there are also many who depend on the government’s financial aid to fund their day-to-day, and whose university experiences, both social and academic, are damaged by the unforeseen supplementary costs that their loans simply cannot cover. The question is, does this call for students to be more careful with their finances, or for the government to revaluate its policies? If some students feel their loan is somewhat unnecessary while others struggle to afford even the basics, it may be time for the latter. A policy that more accurately accounts for students’ varying economic backgrounds may prevent the perpetuation of class divides on campus.