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Monday, 7 October 2013

The NUS's Report on Poverty-Stricken Students

I was shocked to read that, according to the National Union of Students (NUS), students are facing a 'cost-of-living crisis'. Don't get me wrong. My heart didn't begin to bleed for these students. What shocked me was the use of the word 'crisis'. That's what was shocking. According to my dictionary, the definition of the word 'crisis' is:

“ a time of intense difficulty or danger.”
“An unstable condition, as in political, social, or economic affairs, involving an impending abrupt or decisive change.”
“An emotionally stressful event or traumatic change in a person's life.”

All this is a bit like the Marxist theory of 'capitalist crisis'. Since Marx and the early Marxists first talked about the inevitability and reality of 'capitalist crises' (sometimes even about a 'deadly crisis' or 'final crisis'), there have been literally over a hundred prophesies of a deadly final crisis of capitalism (i.e., every year) in the UK alone – and yet here we still are. And, come to think of it, students are still flocking to university and living it up.

Students, or at least student union leaders, often try to fuse their own plight with the plight of the genuinely poor in the UK; just as their own lecturers and professors, coincidentally, try to deviously and politically fuse their own plight with the plight of the genuinely poorer workers of the UK. Yet many workers in the UK earn less than £20,000 a year. Lecturers and professors, on the other hand, earn between £35,000 and £400,000 a year (excluding part-time employees).

In reality, many students only face a crisis when they can't go clubbing at least three times a week or when they can only afford to buy four pints each night. Of course the National Union of Students - which used the word 'crisis' - is, as the name suggests, a union. In other words, it order to sustain itself, it will need to prophesy at least three student crises before breakfast.

In any case, what's wrong with middle-class kids living it rough (if only a tiny bit) for three years? Won't that salve some of the middle-class guilt of at least the Leftist students? Most students will only be relatively poor for three years. At least then they will gain at least some experience of relative poverty.

Poorer Students

People should be concerned with the poorer students who can't rely on their parents' incomes. However, student unions themselves keep on telling us that the number of working class students is decreasing or at the least not rising. That means this current 'student crisis' is only a crisis for predominantly middle-class students. You also have to factor into this the fact that genuinely poor students are getting help in the forms of loans and grants (whether that's enough help is another matter).

So the distinction has always to be made between the majority of well-off students and the poorer ones. In the case of poorer ones, they can get grants and loans if their family income is £25,000 or less. Now that seems like a fairly high rate. According to certain stats, £25,000 is roughly the average income in the UK; whereas the average household income is around £31,000. In other words, it's not a low income as such. Nonetheless, the NUS has talked about a 'squeeze on maximum support from at since 2008'. That means that the NUS believes that students who come from families which have larger incomes that £25,000 should also receive maximum support. How much higher? £30,00 a year? £35.000?£50,00? More? Effectively, this means that the NUS is really talking about bringing back student grants for well-off stud nets too.

Despite all that, a spokeswoman for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills – no doubt a capitalist distorter of the truth and propagandist for the government - goes into detail about what's on offer for poorer students. She said:

"… students from the lowest income households can access over £7,100 of living-cost support, of which over £3,350 does not have to be repaid.”

Above and beyond that, the government also 'provides additional, non-repayable support to students in specific circumstances, such as students with children and disabled students'. Finally:

"Scholarships and bursaries are also available from most universities, and students in hardship can apply for additional support through the Access to Learning Fund."


The National Union of Students has claimed that loans and grants are failing to keep pace with rents and bills. I think that's probably untrue. But apart from it probably being untrue, it's also very vague. Firstly, it assumes that all students only have loans and grants as sources of income. They don't. Some do part-time work. Some rely on parents. Others get money from other sources. The other thing is the NUS is assuming – or expecting us to assume – that the only outgoings for students are rents and bills. Yet rents and bills won't be the only outgoings. So you can't create an equation with (only) loans and grants on the one side and rents and bills on the other. In other words, students will be spending money on other things too – including a hell of a lot on their own entertainment.

Elsewhere the NUS does admit to students having 'other outgoings'; but that's still not very helpful. It tells us that rent, bills and other outgoings continue to rise - 'year after year' - above the rate of inflation. However, grants and loans rates have been frozen this year and will only rise by 1% next year.

Firstly, the phrase 'other outgoings' could mean anything. More exactly, these other outgoings could be very large. It's not said, either, at what rate 'above inflation' all these student outgoings are rising. Indeed is it the case that all outgoings are rising - relative to inflation - or just some or a small amount of them?

All this can also mean that students – or at least many of them – are just spending more ('year after year') because they've become more 'consumerist' (as some students put it) in nature. In addition, rents may be rising because students are choosing to live in plusher and larger properties. They may also be more choosy about where they live. Indeed since the days of self-conscious student grunge (in the 1970s and 1980s), this is certainly the case. Students, even the Leftist ones, a more 'Thatcherite' these days and probably were so even in the old days (though they hid it well).

In any case, according to the NUS, grant and loan rates have only been 'frozen' for one year (this year) – which is hardly an act of financial torture on the government's part. Apart from that, they will be rising by 1% next year. I suppose a 1% rise doesn't sound that much on the surface. But that depends on a whole host of other things. For example, if you have a income of £20,000 this year, then next year you will be getting an extra £200.

The NUS gives us some numbers too. It says that students have 'a potential income' of £13,747; which is composed on their tuition fee loans as well as the maintenance loans and grants to those on average and low incomes (of their families, that is). They calculate that this leaves students short by £7,693. So let's just say that the NUS's calculations are correct for the moment (though that's unlikely). It's still implicitly talking in vague terms about 'outgoings', as I mentioned earlier. In other words, there is a question to be asked: Why the shortfall and what's the nature of the shortfall? Or, alternatively, students are short of a bit of cash to do what with?

The other thing about the NUS report is that it spends a lot of time talking about London. I suppose you could be cruel and say this is the sacrifice students have to pay to go to some of the best universities and consume the delights of the metropolis.

NUS president Toni Pearce said:

"Those who do not have the rare luxury of resorting to the 'bank of mum and dad' are increasingly being driven to work full-time alongside study where jobs can be found, or worse still, into the arms of predatory pay day lenders just to make ends meet.”

Yet Leftist 'think-tanks', journalists and, yes, student unions, as I said, often tell us that the number of working-class or poorer students are decreasing or remaining static. So what does Tony Pearce mean by the 'bank of mum and dad' when most students will indeed get help from their parents? He also says that students are being 'driven to work full-time alongside study'. Am I being a bit too literal-minded here but surely that's impossible. If you are a full-time student how can you also have a full-time job? Unless student days are 48 hours long rather than the customary 24 hours. It may well be the case that some students work long hours; but do they really have full-time jobs as well as attend full-time university courses? How does that work? In addition, she doesn't tell us how many students resort to 'full-time jobs'. All of them? Most of them? Two of them?

The NUS president also tells us that students are 'falling into the arms of predatory pay day lenders just to make ends meet'. Welcome to the real world, mate! That exactly what hundreds of thousands of non-students do and have done over many years – sometimes on a frequent basis. Why should the case be any different for students; especially when you bear in mind the fact that many students only suffer such extreme poverty for three years of their lives.

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