Even rent-free students should quit costly capital, says report

March 19, 2004

London's students would be better off quitting the capital even if it meant leaving rent-free rooms at home, according to a report published this week.

The report concludes that the cost of being a student in London has risen nearly twice as fast as the cost of studying outside London since tuition fees were introduced in 1998.

Mounting costs for housing, travel and books mean that it would be cheaper overall for students living at home in London to study outside the capital.

The high cost of studying in London has also polarised the capital, according to the study. Rich students can afford to come to London to study at elite institutions while, so far, poor students have not been able to afford to leave London so have studied locally at less-prestigious universities. The situation could be exacerbated by the introduction of top-up fees.

The analysis by Claire Callender, professor of social policy at London South Bank University, was commissioned by the Greater London Authority to examine the cost of studying in London. The work focuses on single, childless young students engaged in full-time study.

Since tuition fees were introduced, the number of students seeking to save money by living at home in London has grown from per cent to 39 per cent. But costs for these students have gone through the roof.

Professor Callender says that some parents may be offering their offspring rent-free rooms while declining to pay their contribution to the student's tuition fees.

She says in the report: "Research suggests that one of the consequences of living at home is an impoverished university experience.

"Students living at home miss out. They are less involved in student social life and university activities. Thus, the sharp rise in the proportion of London students living at home means their university life is becoming increasingly different from those studying outside London."

Professor Callender's research also examines the possible consequences of the introduction of increased tuition fees in 2006. Legislation to introduce these is progressing through Parliament.

She says: "The reforms will reassert elitism in higher education.

Privileged students who populate top universities will pay high fees but will get highly valued degrees. Low-income and access students who populate universities at the bottom of the hierarchy will pay less and get less but still end up with large debts.

"Both social class and disadvantage will be reinforced by these divisions between institutions and between students. There is a danger that higher education will become more socially and ethnically differentiated and polarised than ever before - especially in London."

Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, said: "Professor Callender's conclusion that the rising cost of obtaining a degree is creating and increasingly polarised educational experience in London is extremely worrying." He said that he would send a copy of the report to every London MP before the next stage of the higher education bill is considered in a bid to prevent the introduction of top-up fees.

Mandy Telford, president of the National Union of Students,said: "The polarisation of higher education in London is worse than it has ever been and clearly demonstrates the stark differences between the haves and have-nots.

"Quite clearly, if we want a system in this country where students are choosing their degrees and institutions based on suitability, then we need to ensure there is a decent level of support in place. If not, and if top-up fees are introduced, then we will see even more polarisation as less well off students are forced onto the cheapest courses at institutions close to home."

An analysis by The Times Higher last week found that 3 per cent fewer students accepted places to study full time in London this year compared with last year.

The expansion of the full-time student population has also been relatively modest over the past five years.

alison.goddard@thes.co.uk

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