Living on toast and cereal

26th May 1995 at 01:00
Sue Hall, a third-year BEd student, does not receive a grant.

Sue spends Pounds 180 a month on rent (about the average for the area), Pounds 20 a week on food, Pounds 20 a week on entertainment, including drinks and snacks and transport. She owes Pounds 1,150 on a student loan and currently has a Pounds 300 overdraft. She expects to finish her course with debts of Pounds 3,000.

* John Herrington, a second-year BEd student, gets a full grant.

John spends Pounds 40 a week to live in with a family, who provide some food. Entertainment, including transport, costs him about Pounds 20 a week. He has a student loan of Pounds 1,500 and an overdraft of nearly Pounds 600. He expects to be about Pounds 4,000 in debt when he leaves college.

* Ralph Gosling, a second-year BEd student, receives a full grant.

With bills, Ralph's accommodation costs more than Pounds 200 a month. He spends Pounds 20 a week on food and between Pounds 15 and Pounds 20 on entertainment. He has a student loan of Pounds 1,000 and an overdraft of Pounds 300. He expects that he will owe about Pounds 3,000 when he graduates.

Susannah Kirkman finds cash is short for BEd students, who are dissipating their energies in the struggle simply to survive.

John Herrington almost failed his first teaching practice - from lack of funds, not from lack of ability. By the time the teaching practice began at the end of his first year at King Alfred's College, Winchester, John had virtually no cash left and was living on toast.

"I was completely drained. In the end, I had to take time off to go for blood tests and the doctor ordered me home," he recalls.

"Food is the first thing to go when money is tight," says Sue Hall, a third-year BEd student. Although she tries to keep fit by swimming three times a week, she is usually reduced to living on breakfast cereal by the end of the summer term.

The Government says the student loan system is giving students "the chance to manage their own finances", but the evidence is that student teachers are dissipating their energies and talents in the struggle for survival. A recent National Union of Students' survey found that one in two students felt that their financial situation was having an adverse effect on their studies.

"I know I could do much better if only I had the money to buy more books, " said Ralph Gosling, a second-year BEd student.

Most students at King Alfred's have to take part-time jobs to make ends meet. But student teachers find it hard to get regular part-time work because they spend at least 10 weeks a year in schools. Ralph considers himself lucky to have a 10-hours per week job in Debenham's. Unfortunately, the job sometimes clashes with lectures, and he has to study until the small hours to catch up on his academic work.

Sue Hall had to give up her weekend job when she found that she was too exhausted to prepare properly for her teaching practice. She now relies on bar work at the college.

The problem is that the student allowance of around Pounds 2,000 is barely enough to cover accommodation, let alone food, clothes, books and the other essentials. In an affluent area such as Winchester, students are paying Pounds 45 a week in rent on average, excluding bills. Like many other higher education institutions, the number of places at halls of residence at King Alfred's have not kept pace with the rapid expansion in student numbers, so many students have been forced into the private rented sector. Yet they no longer receive housing benefit.

Sue Hall pays Pounds 180 a month to share a room in a former council house; her father had to disconnect and replace a faulty electric cooker before she could move in.

New clothes are a luxury which students generally rely on their parents to provide. Ralph says he has not had anything new for two years, and John, vice-captain of the college cricket team, is hoping that his parents will give him Pounds 40 for a new pair of cricket boots.

Unsurprisingly, students find that their debts are mounting up. Sue already owes Pounds 1,150 on a student loan and regularly runs up an overdraft on her bank account.

"A Pounds 400 overdraft is considered modest," said Bruce Trusler, a student union officer at King Alfred's. "Banks are eager to allow large overdrafts, but it makes it very easy to get into debt."

According to the NUS survey, more than a quarter of students are "often" or "always" worrying about their money problems.

"It always hits me in the holidays," said John. "At Easter, I knew that if I didn't manage to find a vacation job, I would have to take a term off to try to make some money."

Students can't understand why the student loan limit is actually reduced during the final year, adding to anxieties about finals and finding a job.

And there are other damaging results. "It has a detrimental effect on your self-esteem ," said one student. "I feel guilty that my parents can't afford a holiday because they're helping me."

"Soon only rich people's children will be able to go to university," concluded Ralph.

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