Student Focus: <br> Debt, designer clothes and dwindling politics

January 19, 2001

Mandy Garner looks at a major survey on student attitudes to life, work and mobile phones.

Students estimate that they will be saddled with an average debt of £7,026 by the time they have finished their courses, according to a MORI survey. But almost a third of students from working-class backgrounds anticipate they will owe more than £10,000 by the end of their course, compared with 18 per cent of those from the professional classes.

The Student Living survey of 1,103 full-time university undergraduate and postgraduate students at 22 universities around the United Kingdom was conducted by MORI between 15 October and 23 November on behalf of student accommodation provider Unite. It shows that two ways around the debt problem, which more than a third said was seriously worrying them, have been for students to live at home, or to work during term time.

Some 21 per cent of students were living at home, with per cent of these anticipating having no debt by the end of their course, compared with 18 per cent in halls and 15 per cent in private rented accommodation.

Of those living at home, 58 per cent said money had played a big role in their decision. Almost one-third said they would be in halls or renting if they had a grant, and 23 per cent would have left home if it were not for fees.

Just under one-third of students were working part time while at university, 2 per cent at the university where they were studying. More than half had worked at some point during their course. Some 42 per cent felt working part time adversely affected their studies, and juggling work and other commitments came third in the list of gripes about university life.

Despite this, the survey shows a positive view of university life with 95 per cent of those questioned saying they thought going to university was a worthwhile experience. Eighty-six per cent had a very or fairly favourable impression, despite the odd gripe about lack of library books and affordable accommodation.

Seventy-four per cent felt university had made them feel more confident and 84 per cent were optimistic about the future, although almost a fifth admitted to feeling miserable at some point during their course.

The main reason for going to university was to improve job prospects and almost three-quarters anticipated gaining a 2.1 or above.

However, just 35 per cent felt their school or college had fully prepared them for university life and almost two-thirds felt they were "fully intellectually stretched" by their course. Private school pupils were significantly more likely than state pupils to say they felt their schooling had prepared them for higher education.

The survey, one of the most comprehensive since Labour came to power, shows a dwindling of interest in traditional politics. Although 24 per cent said they supported Labour, compared with 16 and 15 per cent who backed the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats respectively, just 4 per cent were members of a political party. But almost a third were members of a charity, voluntary organisation, environmental or human rights group.

Although many of those questioned said they were in debt and 43 per cent had had help from parents or friends to pay for food, three-quarters owned a mobile phone, 59 per cent had a computer and 31 per cent wore designer clothes.

But the survey showed that some things never change - going to the pub was still the firm favourite for passing spare time not spent studying, working or worrying about debts.

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