The dramatic increase in university costs provokes growing concern amongst students and low-paid staff within London universities. According to the Push Student Debt Survey, new
students will face £23,000 debt on average after completing their final year at university. Currently, students in England have the highest level of debt, averaging at £5,271 per academic year. However, it is London students that suffer the largest financial strain with a forecasted debt of over £30,000 when their course reaches its end. In response to growing financial concerns the NUS President, Wes Streeting, contested that: “There should be better information, advice and guidance about student finance on university websites and in their
prospectus.”In addition, the National Union of Students emphasise that some universities suffer more than others through ‘hidden costs’, such as academic books and travel expenses.
The Student Loans Company released details of a study into how much debt is being accumulated by university graduates in 45 higher education institutions. Results were published in The Times, which claimed that“students from Royal Holloway, part of London University, were the most indebted on average, owing £20,270”. This is more than Imperial College, UCL, LSE and King’s College London. Graduates from the nearby University of Surrey have been less indebted on average, with each individual owing SLC £14,260. Out of the 45 universities, 2010 Bournemouth and Oxford Brookes graduates had the least debt, leaving with £13,650 and £13,790 respectively. The data also showed that for many leavers who have gone on to low-paid jobs, debt has increased between 2005 and 2010. 2005 graduates from Strathclyde that still owe money to SLC had a debt of £10,240 in 2005 and a debt of £12,260 in 2010. Similarly, 2005 graduates from SOAS left owing £10,360, and now owe £11,430.
The rising in costs at universities is not limited to its students. Lower paid employees, such as cleaners are equally struggling to survive financially on minimum wage. The exponential gap between the salaries afforded to senior staff and low paid staff is significant. The cleaners employed by London Universities can be expected to receive an income of £5.80 an hour. This is clearly an insufficient amount of money to support a family and balance a number of financial responsibilities in an expensive capital like London. The University of London Union (ULU)’s response is to campaign for a minimum living wage of £7.60 to be paid to cleaners in the capital. ULU argues that employees on a lower paid salary are forced to endure a ‘grinding life of poverty’ and juggle more than two jobs at one time in order to support themselves financially. This minimum wage certainly bares a stark contrast against the nineteen university heads in London universities that are currently earning £300,000 a year. ULU’s Vice President, Mazdal Alizadeh subscribes to the belief that: “for publicly-funded organizations there is an additional responsibility to have some kind of conscience.”