Design for the computer age

August 23, 1996

Lord Skidelsky, in the last paragraph of his "Dear Ron" letter (THES, August 9), demonstrates typical misconceptions about students' finances, and indeed about the makeup of the student body, particularly in the former polytechnics.

There is every reason why students will not be able to "take out loans from banks based on their parents' income and their own job prospects". The financial services industry is itself a market - which is why so few of the banks are interested in providing alternatives to the Government Student Loans scheme - they know a bad risk when they see one! Students cannot even get overdrafts - let alone loans - without regular payments in the form of grant cheques or substantial parental contributions, regardless of parental income. Exceptions in the form of a favour to an established customer - to act as guarantor to student offspring - are very rare.

At this university more than half our intake each year are aged 21 plus. Many are parents themselves, often with debts from previous unemployment. Many parents are either "absent" through divorce or death, or are old, poor, widowed etc. Many students are quite unable, even at 19 or 20, to ask a parent for financial support because of redundancy, ill-health or simply relationship breakdown. All these situations attract very poor credit ratings.

Students aged 18 to 21 with a good solid prosperous middle-class home, able to draw on support of around Pounds 5,000 a year for three or four years, are just not typical of the intake at the new universities. These older "non-typical" students are the ones who have been courted over the last few years and who now stand to be betrayed by easy - and empty - rhetoric about not disfavouring "students from poorer families". Unless future funding arrangements recognise this, it will not be long before the recent explosion in student numbers goes rapidly into reverse.

The reality of student hardship now needs to be understood and grappled with in any meaningful attempt to produce an alternative scenario. Will Sir Ron's committee listen to those who understand student poverty or only to the representatives of the better-off - universities and students - who will, as ever, get by whatever the system?

JILL NIXON Student Financial Adviser CAROL SMITH Student Services Manager Leeds Metropolitan University

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