Crumbling the daily bread

March 3, 1995

In "Grant us our daily bread" (THES, January ) Paul Morris, a student at the University of Central England, survives the year on a full student grant alone. I do not wish to enter into a political argument but Mr Morris's financial circumstances are not by any means that of an average student.

His claim that the student grant is adequate financial support for a year reflects the ignorance shown by many people who do not know all the facts on student hardship.

In the article, the expenditure for a student who survives on the grant alone was included as follows:

* Pounds 1,100 on rent (Pounds 30 week on average, half rent in holidays) * Pounds 450 on food, (Pounds 15 a week over three ten-week terms) * Pounds 240 on bills (about Pounds 8 a week over 30 weeks) * Pounds 150 on travel (giving Pounds 5 week over 30 weeks) * Pounds 240 on books AND entertainment (about Pounds 8 week over 30 weeks).

Add these figures together and we arrive at a total of Pounds 2,180, Pounds 140 above the full grant for 1994/95 (Pounds 2,040), Pounds 345 above the full grant for 1995/96 (Pounds 1,835) and just over Pounds 500 above the full grant for 1996/97 (about Pounds 1,653). Looking at these discrepancies, I would suggest that the claim that students can live on a full grant alone is indeed a highly misleading one.

The article implies that the expenditure outlined in the article is average for all students. But these figures are anything but average.

I work in a student welfare centre and my colleagues and I encounter many problems with student finances. The centre offers a great variety of services including help with access fund applications, budgeting and other financial problems. Such regular contact with student finances (and having only graduated six months ago myself) means that we are well informed of the average student's expenditure. We also know many students who spend less than the average because of the lack of financial support available to them.

Based on the vast amount of information collected over the years and also on the input from recent students, the centre devised a budget to aid students to maximise their finances. Part of the budget is outlined below and is based on a student who is on a full grant and has taken out a full student loan (for 1994/95).

INCOME

Grant Pounds 2,040 Loan Pounds 1,050 Total Pounds 3,090 EXPENDITURE

Housing Pounds 1,560 (Pounds 40/week for *nine months plus summer retainer of Pounds 260 for three months half rent)

Total Pounds 1,820

Amount left Pounds 1,0 Food and household Pounds 660 (Pounds 20/week *33 weeks) Bills Pounds 200 (Pounds 23/month) *Laundry Pounds 35 (Pounds 4/month) Books & equipment Pounds 200 *Clubs, societies, snacks Pounds 100 *Clothing Pounds 100 Travel Pounds 150 (Pounds 5/week) *Toiletries Pounds 100 (Pounds 1-2/week 52weeks) *Telephone Pounds 30 (Pounds 1/week term-time only) *Haircuts Pounds 30 (four to five a year) *Presents Pounds 80 (Pounds 40 Christmas, Pounds 40 birthdays etc) Social life Pounds 260 (Pounds 5/week 52 weeks) Total Pounds 1,945

TOTAL EXPENDITURE

Pounds 1,820 + Pounds 1,945 = Pounds 3,765

* Essential expenses not included in the article.

I fail to see how all the expenses marked with a * could have been excluded from the figures in the article. Items such as clothing and telephone may be paid for by parents. However this is not always the case. Furthermore, if the grant is to be decided as adequate it should mean that it covers all essential expenses and not just the ones that students' parents cannot afford to pay for. Surely that is what "adequate" means, covering essential expenditure.

Finally, the article seems to have failed to recognise that the grant/loan has to cover the whole year, including all holidays; yet it only accounts for expenditure during term-time ie for only 30-33 weeks instead of 52. It may be argued that Pounds 40 week is too high for rent; in Exeter Pounds 40 is average for student accommodation. Also more likely than not students have to pay summer retainers and damage deposits. Still, let us prune further and cut items that may be considered "lavish" for a student: AMENDMENTS TO BUDGET

Rent Pounds 35 a week

no summer retainer, half rent over other holidays Telephone Pounds 0 Presents Pounds 0 Clothing Pounds 0 AMENDED TOTAL EXPENDITURE Pounds 3,100.

The initial budget shows that not only is a full grant far from adequate but that even with a full grant and student loan, there is a deficit of Pounds 675. If a student were only on a grant, they would have to find Pounds 1,725 from elsewhere. According to the amended budget, a student can just about survive on the grant and loan. However an extra Pounds 1,060 would have to be found elsewhere if only a full grant were available for financial support.

This quite clearly shows that a full grant is by no means adequate for students to live on for a year. How could Paul Morris survive then?

To start with, his grant this year is higher than the full grant next year (due to 10 per cent annual grant cuts for 3 years).

Second, his is truly a special case on a number of accounts; not only does he have expenses in term-time only but the average student rent is higher than his, he has no laundry or household costs, he spends no money on telephone calls, clothes, presents, haircuts or toiletries nor does he belong to any clubs or societies. I do not claim that this is impossible, simply that is NOT the norm.

I am appalled that such a misleading article should have been published with seemingly a bare minimum of research. Furthermore I find it offensive that next to the article was a cartoon showing a beer-guzzling, cigarette-puffing student burdening the shoulders of the tax payer. As someone who works among students, I get cases nearly every day of students who are in serious financial difficulty; not because they spend all their money on beer, cigarettes and going out but because there simply is not adequate financial assistance for them to cover even their essential living expenses.

By no means would I say that there are not students who waste their money but there are plenty of non-students who do the same. Alongside students who spend a lot on going out etc. there are a great number who struggle to get themselves through university. When articles such as the one in discussion are published, they really demean those students. Many students are left with little choice but to work, not only during holidays but also term-time, often to the point of working for so many hours to keep their heads above water, that their academic work suffers. What is the logic in this, considering the primary purpose of them being in higher education is to concentrate on academia? At the end of the day, the experiences from higher education are fed back into society and on the whole to the nation.

Students make a great deal of positive contribution to the society that we live in yet many of them are having to pay dearly for this. Why continue to slander the image of all students for the lifestyles that some decide to lead? Without education and the acquisition of knowledge, there can be no progress. So why not support students for a change?

MEK WEERAKOON

Education and welfare officer

Exeter University Guild of Students

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