May Day saw the NUS release details of its latest student hardship survey. The survey found that one in three students actually miss meals because of hardship; one in four consider dropping out because they simply cannot afford to maintain their courses and live; and just over half are either working to supplement their meagre grant or are actively seeking work.
It is our experience that unscrupulous employers are preying on this and are using ever more desperate students to work for a pittance. This has the effect of driving down pay in the service sectors and pricing non-students out of the market and either on to state benefits or worse.
Students have historically been perceived as either scroungers or second-class citizens. They are now being forced to become an underclass at the bottom of everyone's priority list. An educated workforce and populace should be looked on by a nation with pride, not contempt or prejudice, and until such times as adequate funding is given an equitable basis to both students and moreover institutions, this perception will not improve, but rather become further entrenched.
Landlords are equally as bad, and look on students as an easy target. It is frequently their first time away from home, having never entered into property contracts before, and they all too often become the victims of landlords, who usually (but not always) have the law on their side, who will charge the type of rent for a room that an average council house tenant would pay for a three-bedroomed semi in suburbia.
Student unions have also been too often viewed by booking agents and contractors as a "soft touch" and fair game to be exploited, due primarily to the fact that elected officers with very little experience have often found themselves in positions of responsibility and in control of large amounts of money.
A growing recognition of this factor has encouraged unions to employ full-time managers, which often means that the more innovative side of student union activities is slowly being lost, especially in the field of entertainments.
Student unions have for years been the breeding ground of new bands and alternative and ground-breaking music genres. This is becoming a thing of the past as slowly but surely the sole goal of money and those ever-important profit margins become the only thing we are allowed to be interested in.
I believe education is a right, but all rights have a price. The price is seemingly poverty, lack of choice, inequality, exploitation, non-representation, loss of individualism and the triumph of mundaneness over life's rich tapestry - we are cloning a nation of bank managers. Monetarism is not the best management system for all aspects of life especially education.
Dave Dooley President Student union Thames Valley University