Meaningless reports do little to help students

Amidst the dizzying array of numbers and dubious references to so-called ‘cost-effectiveness’ in the recent student living report lay an important message – apparently.

The study, which conveniently doubled as a marketing exercise for NatWest, told us that 40% of “hardworking York students” supplement their study with part-time work, averaging 12 hours per week, collectively earning £10 million, which is slightly less than is spent on alcohol. As if this wasn’t meaningless enough, we were also informed that we collectively spend £46 million on rent and £7 million on groceries.

The irony is that the lack of understanding of what these figures actually mean reflects the lack of close attention paid by many students towards their finances.There is no doubt that there will be thousands of freshers, with hard-earned zeroes on the bank balance and gratefully received student loan money being extracted from cash machines on a more than daily basis, who have no concept, at all, of the extent of their excess, or more importantly, of its long-term implications.

Financial problems, are not to be taken lightly, and a harsh wake-up call, even in this week of weeks, may not be so unwelcome. However, with the media currently saturated with scare stories of economic turmoil and personal financial ruin, there is a grave possibility that such warnings will go unheeded by an audience suffering from what can be described as a kind of ‘information fatigue’.

And vague, confusing reports, like this one are the most likely casualties. It talks about the “cost-effectiveness” of studying in York yet, fundamentally, it fails to evaluate the short-term or long-term benefits of a university education. In addition to this, it is not clear whether the report refers only to this institution, or the city’s two universities combined. The £7 million spent on groceries appears to ignore what is spent on food in cafes and bars. The nationwide survey of 26 towns involved 26,000 students – an average of just 1000 per town. And the figures – which are crudely calculated aggregates of all York students – has no apparent context.

So lets give the situation the vital context it needs. Assuming the report refers to both universities in the city, the combined £18 million we supposedly spend on groceries and alcohol amounts to £40 per student per week, in term time only – this is approximately equivalent to an average maintenance loan. Meanwhile, the figures for earnings from part-time work suggest that the average working student earns at or slightly above the minimum wage for 18-21-year-olds.

Given this context it seems that it’s hardly the kind of warning needed to send us all running to the experts at MoneySense.

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