WMN opinion: Are sugar daddies the only way to pay for university?
Whether female students at Exeter University are contacting wealthy sugar daddies online purely to help cover the cost of passing their degrees is a moot point. Well-heeled, lonely, middle-aged American men would not be most people's choice to help pay for books and computer equipment – at least not without some 'strings' attached.
But the revelation that a relatively large number of women students have been making such contacts underlines the soaring cost of a university education and the fact that, despite loans that do not have to be paid back until students are earning decent salaries, there are few students who can successfully study for a degree, let alone stay on for higher qualifications, without support from the bank of mum and dad.
By coincidence figures out at the same time as the WMN uncovered the sugar daddy connection expose the full cost of child rearing in 21st century Britain. Few parents take cost into account when deciding to have a family. If they all knew before embarking on family life that the process would cost them around £222,000 – a cool 58% more than it was a decade ago – some might think twice. Of course the benefits and the delights of parenthood are, for the vast majority, well worth the disturbed nights, the constant worry and the cost.
But on the specific issue of funding a youngster through university, politicians are deluding themselves if they believe the support offered through loans and grants is sufficient to ensure every child, whatever their background, has an equal opportunity to get the best education to suit their ability.
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It may be true that those at the very bottom of the economic heap can get the state support they need to see them through higher education. It is certainly true that the very wealthiest also have little difficulty in financing themselves, with family help, through whatever higher education they are qualified to take on. The problem comes for those in the middle, with families earning just too much to qualify for state aid, but quite a lot too little to comfortably support their offspring.
And it is not, in the main, the fees that are the trouble, nor even – at the other end of the scale – cash for partying. It is the essential, but increasingly unaffordable, cost of accommodation, food and other essentials that even cheap-as-chips students have to find if they are to survive three years absorbing a fully rounded education and growing up to boot.
The cost of childcare, school uniforms and out-of-school activities hit parents in the first 18 years of their children's lives. But for the next three, when the youngsters go through university – as the Government believes the majority should – the costs can really ratchet up. The frightening prediction is that, if current trends continue, that £222,000 bill for rearing a child to 21 will soon be up to £350,000 and that costs in the South West are rising fastest. Sugar daddy anyone?