The high life of higher education

28th August 1998 at 01:00
I AM sure there are a great many university students who do "face crippling financial burdens'' (TES, August 14) but I do not believe that hardship is the whole reason for the increasing level of debt.

The standard of living that students expect to enjoy is far higher than we, their parents, did while at university. One starts to sound like a middle-aged grouch, but we did not dream of clubbing on weekdays or staying in posh hotels before the end-of-term ball.

I have a son and daughter who have graduated in the past three years. They had their rent paid, lived at home in the vacations and were given money for clothes and holidays. They each had a reasonable monthly allowance. Both left university with overdrafts and student loans to repay.

Why? Because they were available and the temptation for a young person of that age to borrow money is almost irresistible. Pay-back day seems a long way off.

Attributing the increased drop-out rate to financial pressures is also too easy. As the head of a sixth form I find that the expectation on everyone's part - colleagues, parents and students - is that A-levels or GNVQs will be followed by higher education. This is natural since one can embark on an HND course - which can lead to a degree - with just two N grades these days. Or on a foundation course if one fails completely.

We get all our students in somewhere each year. Bowing to the pressure of everyone's expectation, I am not certain that we pay enough attention to whether each individual really loves studying. I suspect that many of those who abandon their courses do not.

I am unhappy about the abolition of maintenance grants and the introduction of tuition fees, though I know that we cannot return to the halcyon days. What I find so pernicious is the amount of money floating around. I can remember begging my bank manager for a loan so I could buy a new dress to go to a ball and being turned down. Now my children's friends with the biggest overdrafts all have mobile phones.

Lynne Field

8 Brendon Close

Oldland Common

Bristol

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