New year wishes... Polly Hennessy

December 29, 1995

I would like to see a change in the way universities are run. For many sixth formers the future looks pretty grim. The problem, I feel, centres around grants or lack of them. Lack of money is a serious problem for many students and often all but kills their chances of entering higher education.

The full grant is Pounds 1,750, which seems like a lot on paper but this has to cover halls of residence fees or rent, plus the cost of living. With hall fees often costing around Pounds 600 per term there is precious little surplus left over.

And the surplus? What else do you need money for? Apart from anything else you often need money for books. Unless you go to a university with a vast copyright library like Oxford or Cambridge with both faculty and college libraries available too, you will find a desperate shortage of books due to underfunding.

We are told this is not really a problem, after all we have the marvellous student loans to see us through our university days. Unfortunately student loans are far from satisfactory too, by the time many students leave university they are in debt, often up to about Pounds 4,000. With current job prospects this does not bode well.

When my parents were at university you could live off your grant, which meant every sixth former, regardless of wealth, had the opportunity to continue their education. Nowadays if your parents cannot afford to help you out financially or you haven't got a well-paid holiday job, university inevitably leads to debt and often seems more trouble than it is worth.

Often the only solution, if you can afford to go at all, is to live at home during your university years, which defeats half the purpose - leaving home, growing up and becoming independent. The upshot is that if your parents are well-off then university is not a problem. If they are not, it is a financial and practical nightmare.

To me this is an outrage. Universities should be for everyone and not just elitist institutions for those who can afford it. In the coming year I would like to see student grants dramatically increased to make higher education fair again.

Polly Hennessy is a sixth-form student.

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