University challenge

Parents who had to learn the hard way talk to Ken Welsby
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The Independent Online
News that the student teacher hired to coach John Gummer's daughter in Latin had worked in a Soho "clip joint" to pay off her debts will have sent shivers down many parents' spines.

"It was easy money," Selina Merryfield said of her work as a hostess encouraging foreign businessmen to buy champagne and sandwiches for pounds 70-pounds 100 a time.The lesson to be drawn from this story is that parents can provide their student offspring with easy money without putting them in moral danger - simply by planning ahead.

Dr Martin Kavanagh, an automotive design engineer, is determined his children Harriet and Martin should not have to suffer as he did as a student in Birmingham in the early 1970s: "In my second year I was in digs with no bathroom and usually no hot water - and for the last three weeks of every term I lived on a diet of beans, chips and cocoa."

When his children were eight he took out 10-year endowment policies, each costing pounds 20 a month, which would mature when they were in the sixth form.

"It was a real pain at the time; pounds 40 a month going out when we could only just afford it," he recalled. "In fact, when I was made redundant from British Leyland, there were a few months when we couldn't manage it - but my father and mother-in-law chipped in to keep the policy going. Two years ago we collected about pounds 4,000 on the policy for Harriet before she went off to Edinburgh and we will do about the same for Martin this year.

"It will be particularly helpful in his case because he wants to do a European engineering degree, which will probably take four years and involve living in France for half the time. So, obviously, the costs will be higher."

Students often find that landlords will take advantage of their need for cheap accommodation, and this is an area where parental provision can be particularly helpful in helping their children escape from difficult circumstances.

After two years of living in flats which were virtually unheated and with a water heater which more than once burst into flames, Bea Marshall and Jackie Macdonald took drastic action to improve their standard of living for their final year in Manchester.

"We were paying almost pounds 40 a week each to live in a slum," Bee said. "To be honest, I'd have given it up rather than face another year." They decided to find rented property on the open market, rather than through student channels.This year they are sharing a modern, two-bedroom flat on a one-year lease with the option to renew for a further year if they stay on for postgraduate work.

"It's a lot more expensive - pounds 60 a week each, but just the thought of being able to take a shower in hot water every day makes it worth every penny," Jackie said.

Her parents, who were horrified at the standard of their previous accommodation, agreed to pay the deposit and guarantee the rent, provided the girls found part-time work to contribute their share of the cost.

In the event both girls worked 12 hours a day, six days a week throughout last summer as cocktail bar waiters in London's West End - and did the same again in the run-up to Christmas.

Jackie's father, Andrew, confesses that he had given no thought to the cost of higher education until his daughter was leaving school - at which point he was shocked to discover that they did not qualify for a grant. Fortunately, as a self-made businessman, he had some money put by in shares and unit trusts which he has been cashing in at intervals to pay college bills.

"In the late 1970s and 1980s I was always doing deals," he said. "I never went out without pounds 500 in my wallet - but I never thought of long- term investment until I was into my 40s when I met some stockbrokers at a race meeting."

Now, with an eye to the future education of his 13-year-old son, he is putting a lump sum each year into PEPs. "I just wish I had known earlier what education was going to cost," he said.

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