Many people outside the university bubble seem to have this perception of students as broke sloths; drinking water for dinner pretending it’s roast beef and barely scraping by to eventually achieve that prized and well deserved first class degree. Yes, this student stereotype is indeed the case for many, but we need to check our privilege.
In the news we are bombarded with headlines predicting increased tuition fees and minimal student loans, shared on Facebook by the thousands; many angered and upset that their already poor quality of life will inevitably decline further. When we need to check our privilege I don’t mean in the ‘but there are starving kids in Africa’ kind of checking your privilege. In some ways it’s easy to watch BBC on Red Nose Day and understand how lucky you’ve got it compared to those living in extreme poverty on the other side of the world, but what about everyday privileges – how lucky have you got it compared to the kid next door in your hometown?
People complain that their student loan is nowhere near enough to cover their university living costs, but the truth is it was never meant to. The loan is there to give young people the head start they need, where you get the rest of the money from is down to you. It’s up to you to either manage what you’ve already got sensibly, or find a way to cover the rest, but it’s the ‘covering the rest’ part that just isn’t possible for some. I’m pretty sure if you can afford to go to university, the bank of mum and dad would be there (perhaps begrudgingly) to be able to give you a bit of extra cash without it having much of a drastic effect on their bank balance. But what if there is no bank of mum and dad? Due to the grant scheme being taken away these people can’t afford to go to university at all, even with the maximum loan amount. Not that they don’t want to go, they physically cannot afford to go to university.
Let me put it in simple terms; if you’re reading this and have been, could have been or are currently attending a university – you have privilege. I know, what a shocker, but how many of you have actually sat down in the midst of exam period, whilst stressing over a deadline and having no food in the cupboards and thought ‘I am so damn lucky’ my guesses are: not many, but it’s true. The government GIVE US MONEY which we don’t even have to pay back if we can’t afford to, we choose how much we pay back and at what rate and in return, we receive a higher education which enables us to pursue our dreams and aspirations. Is that not the best trade deal in the history of trade deals, ever?
University education is so unbelievably normalised in our society, even expected from young people as a natural step after sixth form or college. Young people are put under pressure to quickly decide a degree course that mildly sparks their interest and faced with debt that they may not have even needed to be in. People that either can’t or choose not to attend can often feel alienated by friends and family, but thankfully due to more apprenticeships appearing and awareness of other career opportunities that do not require a degree, this is changing slowly.
So next time you’re blowing £30 at Oceana on a Wednesday night, ripping your hair out over your exams or staring wildly into the distance at your 9am lecture, remember how lucky you are to even be there.