Facing up to hardship

Tes Editorial

Suzanne Ntow, 18, is taking A-levels in sociology, politics and English literature at City and Islington college's sixth-form centre. She intends to read politics at university, but will almost certainly restrict her applications to London so that she can live at home.

"You hear so many horror stories of students prostituting themselves to pay bills and so on. I've got friends with brothers and sisters at university; some of them are thousands in debt, living on beans on toast for months on end.

"I'm working part-time at Tesco and I'm hoping to keep the job to supplement my grant. My parents have already seen my sister through university and I'd feel guilty if I had to depend on them too much. My mother is a nurse and my father is unemployed.

"I do have some regrets about studying in London: people say it's a much more student-orientated life at smaller campus universities and it might have been a better experience to get out altogether. But even if I stay in London, the thought of surviving on a grant and taking out a loan worries me a lot. How can the bank expect a student who's just finished university to start paying back a loan? There's no guarantee you'll get a job and what way is that to start a life?

"The Government seems to be saying, unless you've got money, don't bother. The universities will become like the colleges, forced to get more and more students to get the money, but it won't work if people can't afford to go there."

Stuart Tilley, 23, left school at 15 with no qualifications. He has just completed a four-month Access course at City and Islington's city campus and hopes to study social anthropology at university.

"I can't consider going to university next year because I owe the bank Pounds 2,000 and I'll have to work to pay that off first. Since leaving school, which I loathed, I've worked in America and done all sorts of odd jobs and was unemployed for two years. Eventually I decided that without qualifications I'd never do anything worthwhile.

"I had to take out an overdraft to do the Access course. Although I'm entitled to housing benefit, if you've just moved into a place it takes three months to come through, by which time you've been evicted. I'm now living on a friend's couch.

"My parents are not in a position to help me out, either now or at university; my sister's already at university and everything's gone into that. I'm not too worried about the financial situation at university because I've been in debt two years already, so it's nothing new. I know I'll have to work while I'm studying.

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