A tale of two students

January 10, 2003

The government is keen to get more students from "non-traditional" backgrounds into university but what happens once they are there? Is their experience equal to that of those from more affluent backgrounds? Recent publicity over Euan Blair's £269,000 student pad in Bristol compares uneasily with reports that many students continue to live at home while juggling part-time jobs to make ends meet. The THES spoke to two students from across the class divide.

William Wearmouth , 19, is a second-year student in politics and political studies at Leeds University.

He rents a house with three others "in one of the better student streets", at a cost of £55 a week. He did consider buying a house to share with a friend, but as his course involves time away and he does not plan to stay in Leeds, he decided against it. He also runs a car.

As well as taking out the full loan, he receives generous top-ups from his parents, which means he has about £80 a week after rent and bills. He goes out "probably far too much, as everyone does". He is in the university's Tory group, which involves quite a bit of socialising, eats out regularly and goes clubbing from time to time.

He is also president of the union debating society, which often entails weekends away, sometimes to other parts of Europe. Although the society subsidises part of these trips, "we usually end up paying for most of it ourselves".

He does not work during term-time but enjoys working in a village pub sometimes in the holidays, when he is not going away. He is also considering getting a term-time job connected with his course, perhaps working for the local Tory office in Leeds - "as much for the experience as for the money".

He has noticed that some students struggle financially, especially on his course, which involves spending semesters in Washington and London and paying living expenses in those cities. He has no firm plans for when he leaves other than not following his parents into farming.

Jignesh Ramji , 22, is studying for a masters degree in human resource management after three years as an undergraduate in psychology at Leeds.

His parents - his father works in a factory, his mother works for the council - pay his tuition fees, but otherwise he relies on an overdraft and his earnings from two jobs.

He works about 12 hours a week in a call centre, which earns him about £60. He also acts as a project coordinator for Virgin Student, working between eight and ten hours a week to earn about £50. This gives him £110-£120 a week for all living expenses, including rent of £51 a week and bills.

In financial terms, he is finding taking a masters degree tougher than undergraduate study because he is no longer eligible for a loan. His rent has also increased substantially as property prices have risen.

He goes out less this year since his undergraduate loan stopped. "I don't eat out. That's a luxury I can't really afford."

He works through the vacations and cannot afford the time for voluntary work related to his course. "I cannot be too fussy about what I do. It is more important to have a job that pays reasonably well."

Because of an anticipated £16,000 debt by the end of the year, he is keen to get a job as soon as he finishes his masters.

Regarding the difference between students' incomes, he says: "Some people have more money to spend on stupid things and do not have to worry about making sandwiches or going out three or four times a week."

He doesn't think his academic work has suffered but he has less spare time than some students to do other things or just to relax.

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