The student experience: funding. . .

What is glaringly absent from Paul Morris's article (THES January 27), which argues that students should have enough money to live on, is a definition of what, in fact, constitutes student hardship. In my response I will use as an indicator of hardship quotes from the 1994 National Union of Students/Nat West Survey Values for Money: "I am a non-smoker and a non-drinker and I still have to worry about every unit of electricty and every pint of milk" (22-year-old finalist, University College London).

"I have no money for food sometimes and often have not got the train fare to college" (31-year-old first-year student, Kings College, London).

While not denying that there will also be a minority of students who will have enough money to spend on "ten pints in the student union bar", I am not talking about this minority, I am talking about the vast majority of students who are now experiencing real financial hardship. People are now better off unemployed and on benefits than studying full-time. It is interesting to note that Morris's analysis concentrates solely on young full-time traditional entrants to higher education - his article makes no mention of part-time or distance learners, but for the purposes of my response I too will concentrate on full-time students.

Morris is right in saying that university education has expanded massively since the elitism which was prevalent 50 years ago. Yet what this expansion actually represents is widening of access for the wealthy.

Morris is also correct in arguing that Britain is in economic decline, yet his conclusion is flawed - "If the country does recover, we will be among the people most likely to benefit in the future". The economic recovery is unlikely just to happen. Investment in the future is necessary and that means investing properly in education.

It is no longer possible to rely on vacation work to pay off the overdraft. Students are now competing with the other three million unemployed. And even after graduation many are not finding it easy to find well-paid jobs - half of all graduates who have taken out student loans are too poor to make repayment. Those who do not take out loans are taking on part-time jobs while they study which can be to the detriment of their studies.

A debate about the failings of the current system of student financial support is long overdue.

GLORIA DE PIERO

President, University of Central England

Students' Union

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