Credit crunch hits students
It has toppled Northern Rock, caused chaos on Wall Street, bankrupted Iceland, and may just have dashed McCain’s hopes for winning the White House. Now the international financial crisis is set to hit you where it hurts: your university marks. According to the National Union of Students (NUS), degree marks will be the latest casualty of the credit crunch, as more students are forced to neglect their studies and work longer hours to get by.
The combination of rising living costs and a lack of financial support means that greater numbers of students will have to work part time to meet their basic needs, say the NUS. An NUS report shows that around half of students in paid work are working because their living costs exceed the amount they can borrow.
“It is clear from this report that financial support is inadequate for many students. With a recession looming and basic living costs set to rise, this situation is going to get even worse”, says Aaron Porter, NUS Vice President for Higher Education.
“Only a few months ago, the first Student Price Index found that inflation is effectively 50% higher for students than for the rest of society – many of them will have to work longer and longer hours just to get by.”
Research carried out for the NUS shows that whilst the majority of students undertake paid work while at university, only about a third work during term time. The research also suggests that those students working longer hours are more likely to be working to meet basic costs of living.
However, the report suggests that the majority of students in work are hardly living a desperate Dickensian lifestyle: 62% of those working are in employment in order to pay for clothes, holidays, socialising, and drinks out.
‘45% of respondents said that working during term time was having a nega-tive effect on their studies’
But 45% of respondents said that working during term time was having a negative effect on their studies. Porter said, “It is particularly worrying that nearly half of those students who work during term time admit that their studies are being adversely affected. [The] NUS would like universities to recognise that many of their students have to work to top up their income, and to make suitable allowances in order to enable them to manage their workload more effectively.”
Richa Kaul-Padte, Welfare Officer of the University of Sussex Students’ Union (USSU), agreed that the credit crunch will have a detrimental effect on students’ work, adding, “it is of course important that universities recognise that students’ having to work extra hours will negatively impact their studies.”
“For example, students should have the option to attend the same seminar at different times of the week, allowing students to maintain both their academic and work commitments.”
The report comes amid further bad news for students from the government, as John Denham, the universities secretary, confirmed that up to 40,000 students would lose their grants, after ministers underestimated the number of students eligible.
Upon becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown had raised the threshold for a full grant from £17,500 to £25,000, and increased the threshold for a partial grant to £60,000. But the government hadn’t counted on such a steep rise in the amount of grant applications, leading to a funding shortfall of £200m, which they have been forced to recoup by cutting the partial grants that would have been available to students from middle-income households.
The improvements to the system announced last year meant that two-thirds of all students were eligible to receive a full or partial grant – ranging from a minimum of £50 to a maximum of £2835 for the full grant.
During a speech to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee last week, Denham explained the difficulties the department faced in accurately predicting the number of students who would apply for grants, as the predictions relied on data from last year when the grants were increased. Denham admitted that he had expected only a third of students to qualify for the full grant this year, when in actual fact 40% of applying students are eligible for full grant aid. He added that “You are only going to be 100% if you have been running the system for some time”.
The sudden changes have drawn derision from opposition parties, for what they see as yet another government blunder. The NUS, meanwhile, has raised concerns about the timing of the grant cuts. Wes Streeting, president of the NUS, said the changes “will inevitably hit new students from middle income families at a time when they are struggling to cope with the impact of the credit crunch.”
“The Government needs to stop tinkering with grants and fees every year, and recognise that the entire higher education funding system is unsustainable. We need a proper review of the system so that parents and students know where they stand.”
But Richa Kaul-Padte cautioned against the use of more debt to supplement student incomes, saying that “increasing the amount of ‘loans’ available to students is just not the answer.”