In 2008 we bailed out the banks. We now face the biggest financial crisis in a generation, with record youth unemployment. Who will bail out young people? R29 and Vice are joining the National Union of Students to call for all students to be offered rent rebates and asking the government to bring back maintenance grants for students from low income backgrounds.
Covering the cost of studying for a master's degree was hard enough before the pandemic. Unlike funding for undergraduate degrees, financial support from the government for postgraduate study comes in one lump sum of £11,222 which goes towards your tuition as well as living expenses. With tuition costing between £4,900 and £30,000 for postgraduate study, that leaves little to nothing for the cost of living.
Under normal circumstances, students would support themselves with work, often in the hospitality industry. If they were lucky they might have family support. But as the pandemic dried up sources of income, students have been left struggling to pay rent, let alone feed themselves, without financial support of universities.
We hear from 23-year-old Georgia Clark who is doing a master's in mechanical engineering at the University of Birmingham. After a recent break-up, she had to find a way to pay rent and support herself without a job or financial support from her family.
My name is Georgia, I'm 23 and I'm currently doing my master's in mechanical engineering at the University of Birmingham. I did my undergraduate at Birmingham City for three years and I’m in my first year here. While for your undergraduate degree you get a tuition loan and a maintenance loan, for postgraduate you just get one sum, which is around the ballpark figure of £11,000, which does include your tuition. I don’t have any support from my family and my tuition is £10,000 so I have less than maybe a grand or so to spend on everything else for a whole year.
I was between part-time jobs, working here and there before the pandemic – but that dried up when the pandemic hit. I was finishing off my bachelor's degree and living with my partner at the time. He paid most of our rent because I was in between jobs and still doing my degree and that wasn't a problem then. The work I got wasn’t enough to support me but it was enough to not feel so guilty about my partner paying all the rent at the time.
In December 2020 we moved somewhere new but I broke up with him not long before we had to move, for several reasons. We agreed to still live together and try to keep it as amicable as possible and I would still pay whatever I could: I'd pay the difference and we'd try and work it out.
One day in January he turned around and gave me 10 days notice to find somewhere, find the paperwork, get the money together to pay the rent, move and all that stuff. I’m now living in private housing with three other students – I've only met one of them so far, because I found them on a Facebook page. Now I'm just being as frugal as possible until I can get a grant or something. I luckily had some savings because I had a court case a few months ago and I'd managed to keep that set aside but now that's all gone for rent.
My university has a support fund and I think they've increased the budget for that as well. I've applied for it and only earlier today I've been accepted; they're offering me £2,500, which should cover most of my rent until the end of August. It's a big relief. As for living expenses at the moment, I've bulk-bought a bunch of food. I've extended my overdraft and I may have to use a food bank.
As for living expenses at the moment, I've bulk-bought a bunch of food. I've extended my overdraft and I may have to use a food bank although I do not want to do that.
My course should be finished by the end of August but I normally do extend my deadlines and I'll have to because I've missed a few of my assignments with this whole situation going off. I am excited about finishing my MA but I just wish I could have the student life as a master's student as well, because it's a different university. I wish I could have experienced all the stuff they have to offer.
It's been stressful overall: having to rush around, find places, get my stuff together, move, unpack, put my PC together and do shitloads of uni work on top of that. I managed to get most of it done. It was just one assignment which was particularly tricky but I submitted an extenuating circumstances form. So I'm hoping I can get an outcome to that.
I think the government's response as a whole has just been absolutely abysmal. They're very much skirting around the subject of it. I don't know about many universities but I know that my university for this current lockdown period has reimbursed people in their own halls but not so much for ones who live in rented homes with private landlords. I don't think it's fair that students are being told that they need to come back and then told that they actually can't come back and are now being forced to pay all this money for rooms they can't even use.
I do wish they'd at least refund some amount of tuition. I had this conversation with a professor yesterday. They said, well, [the teaching staff] put more effort in so if anything you're lucky they're not bigging up the charges for tuition, which is outrageously stupid. There definitely needs to be some sort of refund or reduction of interest on payments back for your tuition. My interest is already racking up and I'm not even on campus.