5 November 2013, Varsity Online Comment Section
“Can’t you just borrow the money from your parents?” was the refrain one Gonville and Caius undergraduate was allegedly met with when trying to explain to a college official why they couldn’t pay their bill.
It is not surprising that any Caius student should struggle to pay their college bill this term. The college have recently come under scrutiny by announcing that the price of student accommodation at Caius would increase by 9.5 per cent, while food prices would also rise by 6 per cent. The announcement has been met with suitable consternation by the student body and alumni alike, who are worried that an “increase of this magnitude is unnecessary and potentially very harmful to the wellbeing of the student body.”
The college official’s words were clearly ill-advised, particularly for a university which has long been (unsuccessfully) trying to shed the image of catering only for the upper echelons of society. The comment makes it clear that Cambridge is still very much a university which views its students as the children of those with deep pockets. There is almost some sense in this argument: why would anyone be willing to pay £9000 fees on top of the cost of living? I certainly wasn’t, and had the advantage of being a Welsh student in the year they decided to subject a generation of students to crippling debt with little chance of payoff, otherwise I wouldn’t have applied. It is comments like these which will prevent many others applying.
It seems that Gonville and Caius have followed this line of thinking. Perhaps they do not expect a diverse range of students in their intake, and cannot comprehend what those whose parents can do little or nothing to ease the burden of extortion are doing there. The state is seemingly no longer responsible for the welfare of their students, and as a consequence, only those who already have the resources can be expected to gain an education. This attitude, although untenably cruel, is merely a reflection of the broader attitude of a society in which the majority of people, and particularly young people, are being increasingly marginalised by the current government.
This generation of millenials have borne the brunt of austerity cuts. The average student debt is now the size of a small mortgage, and this is but the tip of the iceberg of stress, worry and financial hardship to come. Many students, after completing their degrees, will fall into an endless series of often exploitative, unpaid internships, part-time work and further training before they can even hope to enter the sector of their choice. The majority of these placements are in London, and the Help to Buy scheme indicates that the most profitable and beneficial place to live in the nation is probably unaffordable to most young people. Additionally, with the economy in its current rut, who knows if there will be any employment anyway?
As a consequence, these millennials will have to return to their childhood bedrooms for an unspecified number of years, watching the wallpaper peel and aspiring to independence, yet unable to establish themselves outside their parents’ arm span. Adolescence is being artificially extended, and individuals – who considered themselves to be adults – are forced back into the rules and conduct they did not expect to return to. It cannot be said that the super-rich are any less reliant on their parents to give them money for a deposit, get them work and enable them to launch their own lives, but independence has never before been as much the preserve of an elite as it is today.
Gonville and Caius may be willing to accept the individualist attitude of the current climate, but they will ultimately be the ones who suffer. It is the diversity of the college which generates the discussion, debates and counter-culture it must maintain to keep its intellectual and creative flair. The students applying to Cambridge this year will not to be doing so solely for the academic education it offers. It is the social scene that is just as important in giving the education we need. This atmosphere can only exist as long as students have the resources to attend societies and engage with other students, and these resources are often financial. Therefore, Gonville and Caius may well be robbing itself of the very resources it requires to appeal to students in the first place.
The future for this generation of graduates is bleak, but it will considerably worsen if universities become even more the preserve of the rich and lose the diversity which ultimately makes them attractive and useful. Without opportunities that universities offer their students, the millennials being forced into a depressing spiral of debt will lack the skills they require to challenge their life pattern. An institution which can only attract the elite will ultimately lose its raison d’etre and the very elite it desired.