Students forced to live off their parents

Family contributions are growing every year, writes Judith Judd
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The Independent Online
Parents are paying out pounds 403m a year to help their children through university, according to a survey released today. The money, averaging pounds 631 a year among those students who receive extra cash, is on top of the parental contribution to the grant made by better-off parents.

News of the increasing parental subsidy to students comes as Sir Ron Dearing's committee is preparing to recommend that free tuition should end, putting even more pressure on parents to fund their children through higher education.

At present, students and their parents contribute only to living costs through a mixture of grants and loans. More than a third of students - 37 per cent - now cite parents as their main source of income, compared with only a quarter four years ago.

A growing number of students are accepting money from their families as a gift rather than a loan, as anxious parents try to ensure that their offspring do not leave university burdened with debt: the number owing money to their parents has halved in the last four years.

The annual Barclays Student Survey involved interviews with 1,921 students in 16 English and Welsh universities and was carried out by CEL, an independent research company. Parents appear to support their daughters through college more than their sons.

Forty-two per cent of women students cited their parents as their main source of income, compared with only 32 per cent of men.

Students are increasingly accepting debt as a way of life and fewer of them are worried or angry about it than in the past. The percentage of students concerned about debt has fallen by 21 per cent over the last five years.

Most students expect to be in debt at the end of their course - 86 per cent compared with 80 per cent last year. The overall average debt is pounds 2,475 at the end of a course: 25 per cent on last year's figure but a lower increase than in the previous year, perhaps because parents are contributing more.

Students' dependence on government loans has increased as the value of the grant has decreased. This year, nearly two in 10 said it was their main source of income compared with only one in 10 last year.

Despite increasing debts, the proportion of students who work during term time has remained at just under a third. Four in five students work in the summer holidays and more than half are now saving up earnings from part-time jobs before going on to university.

Gordon Rankin, director of personal banking at Barclays, said: "Students are becoming more ingenious and sophisticated at raising money."

Douglas Trainer, president of the National Union of Students, said: "Many students are only able to survive because of extra assistance from parents, but this can't be the case for all students, especially those from low- income families."

The survey shows that, of students who receive additional voluntary contributions from parents, maths and science students receive the most. Social science students had the highest levels of debt at the time of the survey and maths and science students the lowest.

The most popular reason for choosing a course was a liking for the subject. However, students are increasingly taking vocational courses that will help them in the job market when they graduate.

n David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, has launched the Labour Government's first privatisation with a Bill to sell off debt from student loans.

The sell-off was first drawn up by the Tory Government and Mr Blunkett said it was needed as "a critical element" in meeting Labour's manifesto pledge to work within spending plans already announced for the next two years.

The Bill smooths the path for the sale, which is expected to raise around pounds 3 billion. It will not change the terms for existing student loans, but hands over the job of collecting debts to the sell-off buyers.

Wages help buy materials

Rina Patel, Nottingham Trent:

Rina Patel has just finished the third year of a four-year course in Interior Architecture and Design at Nottingham Trent University. Rina, 22, is also regularly working weekends at a mother and childrenswear store. "They operate a nil-hour contract; you're not contracted for any number of hours. They simply ring up and ask if you can work specific times. I mostly work Sundays, but in busy periods, like the run-up to Christmas, I've done whole weekends. If I need extra money, I sometimes work evenings too."

The store pays pounds 3.85 an hour, double on Sundays. Rina usually works for four or five hours at a stretch; "Mostly it doesn't affect university work because it's only weekends. If I have a big project I do fewer hours.'

Rina is on a full grant, which covers the rent, about pounds 45 a week, but not much more. Her parents send her a little money, but it is only the job that gives her enough to live on. Her main extra expenditure is on course projects which cost between pounds 15 and pounds 20 a week. "The materials and pens cost quite a bit. But, basically, the more money you throw at the projects, the better the marks for your models." She allocates her earned money to these. "If I didn't have my work money to spend, then the other money in my account would just end up going on the projects," she says. Rina believes if this were the case, she wouldn't have enough money to live on.

Many of her friends work to support themselves, often in local pubs or bars. However, she prefers her job because she "gets to hang around with these great married women and chat to them about food, small children and chicken pox".

Tom Hampson

The easy life subsidised

Duncan Parrish, Cambridge:

Duncan Parrish is one of the lucky ones. He's at Clare College, Cambridge, at the end of his second year reading biology. Apart from during his gap year, he's never had any full- or part-time work. His parents give him "a monthly allowance, pounds 300, which isn't huge, but is perfectly adequate".

His case is unusual. His father is a naval attache in Moscow, and so his parents live abroad. He and his brother live at home in Surrey during vacations. During term-time, he lives in hall. One of the advantages of Cambridge is that "the rent's ridiculously low; only about pounds 265 a term", while terms are usually 10 weeks long.

Students at Cambridge aren't allowed to work during term time, but Duncan is not planning to work over the summer either. He has taken out a full student loan of pounds 1,500 and this is largely to help him out while he writes. "I'm spending the summer writing a play; I've shown some of my stuff to publishers who are interested. Most of my friends don't work over the Easter or Christmas holidays, but do have jobs over the summer."

Yesterday, he was at a conference of young Labour student representatives in Bournemouth. "I've got some friends who have never done a day's work in their lives," he says. A Cambridge Union spokesman said that Duncan's situation was "very unusual" and that most students at Cambridge were struggling.

Duncan does not feel obligated to his parents. "I've always been independent. My parents are supporting me at the moment, I don't have any problems with that. I'm glad I'm not sponging off the state."

Tom Hampson