Students hindered by money worries

January 7, 2000

Olga Wojtas on the latest reactions to the Cubie report into student finance.

Prospective students believe short-term financial sacrifices are outweighed by the long-term gains of a higher "graduate" salary. But some question the wisdom of their decision once they begin studying. Those who reject or delay entry to post-school education say the strongest deterrents to study are financial.

These findings come from a System Three investigation commissioned by the Cubie committee, to be published later this month. Based on focus groups and in depth interviews, the study found widespread dissatisfaction with the current student finance system, which was felt to discourage poorer students.

Young people who had rejected education in favour of work felt they were asserting their independence. "This group thought that by working, they would be treated as adults, whereas becoming a student would simply be a continuation of being a child, dependent on parental support," the report says.

Some feared that if they began a course then found they had made the wrong choice, they would be burdened by debt when they dropped out. Others feared a wrong choice would prevent them gaining financial support for any future course.

Women from low-income backgrounds and minority ethnic groups who were potential students said they could not risk losing benefits and being financially disadvantaged. They said accruing debt was only part of the problem, since they could not imagine how they could meet day-to-day costs of travel, food and course materials without help.

One woman said: "I'm on benefits and what money I've got is tight. For me to go to college, it would cost me a couple of pounds a day. If I didn't have [a grant] I wouldn't contemplate it."

Many students said they had not considered the financial implications in advance. Some felt they were being penalised for trying to improve their chances in life and would be better off on the dole.

The loss of benefits for students with disabilities, those who had been unemployed and single parents was a particular deterrent. The lack of adequate childcare was also problematic.

Most relied heavily on paid work, almost a fifth working for more than 21 hours a week. Most felt this hindered their attaining better qualifications.

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