It wasn’t so much a “Eureka!” moment. More “Ewww...”. With a daughter studying for A-levels, I have taken, in spare moments, to trawling the net for subject-related university scholarships. In the wake of education cuts, funding for arts subjects in particular has dwindled alarmingly and most scholarships are hedged with conditions.
The terms apparently offered by Sponsor a Scholar UK were uniquely liberal. Up to £15,000 a year offered to female students. No means testing. No academic criteria. Scholarships are “open to anyone with an open mind who is in, or is about to embark upon full time education in a UK institution”.
Call me old fashioned (my children do, daily), but when something calls for an "open mind” my maternal nose scents sleaze. Unusually, too, it appeared that meetings with sponsors would take place in an hotel room. Scrolling to the Frequently Asked Questions section, I learned that typical sponsors are “men between the ages of 28 and 50 who run their own successful businesses”.
It is easy, aged 50, to think “ Ewww” and log off. But would an 18-year-old, burdened with tuition fees of £9,000 a year and scrabbling to meet living expenses, dismiss the “opportunity” so breezily?
While the true intentions of the Sponsor a Scholar website remain murky, the National Union of Students and others have reported a marked increase in student hardship since the introduction of higher fees.
I am equally unconvinced by airy libertarians defending “honest transactions” between consenting adults – just so long as its not their daughters – and by the Belle de Jour fantasy of quick and easy money.
“Businessmen” paying massively over the odds for sex (£15,000 for a handful of meetings a term) are, I hazard, unlikely to want extras involving Heidegger. Call it “sponsorship” if it sounds better, the hard risks and realities of prostitution remain. A-levels are no proof against exploitation.