Everyone thinks I’m going off to live this wonderful life in the big city; I’m too ashamed to tell them the truth…
I’ve been accepted onto a Masters course in the big city – London! Sounds great, right? I mean, this is a good thing! It’s great! I’m happy about it! This was my dream…
Rewind to how this all came about. A glorious spring morning in 2016, I was lying on the floor, bawling my eyes out and trying to think of the quickest way to kill myself. Because my life had counted for nothing. I had dreams… That’s only human, right? Some people have big dreams, some people have simple dreams, and some people are quite happy waking up and going to work and coming home and eating their TV dinner in front of some reality TV show and going to bed and waking up and living Ground Hog Day every damn day of their damn lives in Punxsutawney, Pissville. But, I’d had enough! I was literally sick to death of living in Punxsutawney, Pissville!
My dream was to move to America (where everyone I know lives) and be a professor. Y’see, I’m an academic person. Some people love hair & beauty. Some people love soccer. I love education. I love learning new things about the world. And everyone I know lives in America; I’m lonely in the UK. In that moment of lying on the floor, bawling my eyes out, I realized that there were only two options available to me. So I stopped crying, picked myself up and started working towards my goal of moving to America and becoming a professor. Getting a really useful Masters qualification is the second big step towards that goal (the first was getting my teaching qualification). America doesn’t just let anyone in. I need to become… impressive.
Problem is… I’m broke. I’ve always been broke. I’ve been sleeping on couches since I was 15. People talk about “2nd generation poverty” or “3rd generation poverty” but I don’t think any of my ancestors ever knew anything besides poverty. My great-great-great grandmother earned a few bucks by collecting dead bodies of sailors who had washed up on the shore. In fact, poverty is so normal to me that I don’t understand how or why other people my age have so much money… I see people with rich parents, mortgages, cars and stable jobs as, like, these magical beings… like, they must be blessed or something.
Rewind to summer 2008, I finished my bachelor degree just in time for the economic meltdown and ended up working dead-end, minimal-wage jobs. Like a lot of millenials, I was stuck in the infinity loop of over-qualified-under-experienced. (And they wonder why millenials aren’t having kids? We can’t afford kids!) Getting laughed out of low-pay interviews because we’re overqualified; getting laughed out of higher-pay jobs because we have no experience. Not that I get many interviews in a climate where 100 people are applying for every job and 99 of them have better CVs than I do.
I have to do this Masters degree. For me, there is no option. It’s this, or the roof of a multi-storey carpark. It should be a happy occasion. I’m moving to the big city! I love learning and this is a stepping stone towards my dreams. But universities are screwing over their Masters students with extortionate fees. So I’m going to be homeless. Not homeless like a tramp, but homeless like I’ll be living in youth hostels for the academic year. Although, considering I currently live on a couch in someone’s living room, and two months ago I was sleeping on a floor… perhaps it will be a slight upgrade. But I dread not having any privacy and I’m concerned about my valuables being stolen and I worry about sleeping next to strangers who could potentially be psychopaths…
Rewind to 2016, the government introduced student loans for Masters degrees. Which is great! I could not do my Masters without this funding. But unlike at bachelor level where you have two separate amounts for your fees and for your living expenses, the Masters funding is just one lump sum for everything. You get up to £10,280 total, maximum, final. As soon as the government announced this, many universities in England rammed up their Masters fees from previously being between £2,000-£6,000 to now being, you guessed it, £10,280.
Because they can.
Most universities in the UK are money-obsessed and have zero consideration for their students mental and physical well-being.
And so students are left with nothing to live off.
The government knew full well that most universities would charge as much as they could get away with. It’s criminal that universities don’t have to justify why a course has increased by up to £8,000 in the span of one academic year. On top of that, universities will toss out any student they think might struggle because they’re obsessed with ratings. The latter is understandable but the former goes against the ethos that educational establishments are supposed to be held by. How can an institution claim to be inclusive and support diversity and equality when they a) only accept top performing students, b) charge fees that exclude most people?
So now that the universities are charging such high fees, how are students supposed to live?
My university is not quite charging £10,280. No, they’re charging £8,500. I could study a cheaper Masters but that would mean ending up with a less useful qualification (think: Msc. Baby Farts), which would mean lower future wages and less ability to move to the USA, so that’s not a risk I’m willing to take. I can only do this once, may as well make it count. But this leaves me with £1,780 to live off for 10-months. That’s £178 per month….
Obviously, I’ll get a job, but I don’t know how long that will take or how much I’ll be able to earn in the limited hours available between studying.
Quick math lesson…
Costs for the academic year:
- Hostel accommodation = $4,000 (MINUS £2220. Notice I’m already in minus figures by several grand and I’m homeless and haven’t even bought a damn sandwich yet…)
- Money I owe people = £2400 (-£4620)
- Food/Drink/Clothes/Toiletries = £1000 (-£5620)
- Travel costs = £500 (-£6120)
- Stationary & Books = £300 (-£6420)
- P.O Box address = £200 (-£6620)
- Trip to Disneyland = wait… What? Ok, fine, no Disneyland.
Compare this with Undergraduate degrees where students get their £9,000 per year fees paid and various grants and loans to cover living costs up to £9,000 per year. It’s not mega-bucks, but it’s far better than £1780. Another comparison: For my teacher training course that I did last year, I got £8000 fees paid, a £9,000 maintenance loan, and a £4,000 bursary.
Why is it so impossible to offer the same for Masters students? Why? WHY!? They know damn well they can afford it, so why?! Why are we being screwed over and forced to live below the poverty line when other students are given maintenance loans?
And this £6620 debt is while living like a homeless person, and putting my physical and mental well-being in danger. This isn’t living some luxury life. And this is all just to attend a university course. To try to get somewhere with my life. To try to get a decent job so I can earn a decent wage so I can eventually own my own home sometime before I die and eventually live close to my friends and be able to put a little door mat out on the porch like a normal person and invite people over for lemonade like a normal person, instead of living like a fucking nomad.
On top of making me homeless, my university has the audacity to tell me to get a Career and Professional Development loan which would cost me £280 per month to repay. (You have to repay the CPDL as soon as your course finishes.) Yet there is no guarantee I’ll have a job by then that can pay £280 on top of rent, bills, food, and my existing £240 per month debts. So, I’d just be worse off.
My university also has the audacity to tell me I shouldn’t work while doing my Masters because I should focus on my studies. If they didn’t bankrupt me I wouldn’t need to work while I study. I wouldn’t need to be homeless. That was their choice. I have to live in squalor while they have their champaign luncheon in their 5 * luxury, air-conditioned, leather-chaired, marble-floored meeting room.
I don’t know who to be more mad at: the universities or the government. I think they’re both as bad as each other.
Universities are earning so much excess money these days that they’ve become like encapsulated worlds, buying up every other building, engulfing neighbouring schools, colleges and office blocks, buying brand new technology for every department then throwing it all away 6 months later, spending thousands of self-congratulatory dinner parties, while their students starve and live in rat-infested closets with 5 other people like its Dharavi or Karachi, or some other god-awful dimension of hell.
Fast forward to today, I’m going through the process of throwing away 99% of my belongings. I won’t have anywhere to store anything at the hostel so I’ll just take a few essentials. I recall the words of an acquaintance I bumped into a few days earlier… “You’ll have to let me know where you’re living in London. I’ll come visit!” She was hugging me and excited about my big adventure. I just smiled and nodded. People don’t need to know I’m going to be homeless. They all think I’m heading to the big city to live an amazing life. I take down memories from shelves and throw them in the trash. A funny thought crosses my mind: “It’s almost like dying…”
I can only hope I’ll be reborn as a butterfly.