Watch out, the university system is rigged to leave you as poor as possible

Why aren’t we given more protection from money-grabbing banks and businesses?


We go to university in a world fuelled by consumerism, surrounded by gluttonous examples of excess wherever we look. Vapid, money-obsessed celebs stare down at us from billboards, demanding our attention, while all around the world young people mutilate their faces in an attempt to emulate Kylie Jenner’s lips, the ultimate monument to money spent in pursuit of beauty.

With all this around us, is it really any surprise so many of us end a year at uni having spent far beyond our means?

The spendthrift culture seeping through our universities claims its first victim through young women. The days of simple red lips being the epitome of glamour have been forgotten. Instead, the modern model of beauty is structured, sleek, impeccably groomed and comes at a price.

The single lipstick which would have cost our student predecessors anywhere between one and 20 quid has been replaced by a full collection of brow gels, highlighters and contouring powder that wouldn’t look out of place within the kit of a top make up-artist.

Modern universities thrive on an escalating arms war of vanity, with each year bringing with it a new, impossible-to-achieve standard of beauty. Even the boys aren’t safe from the pressure to make sure every nightclub photo looks like it’s been lifted from Bystander.

Picture perfect

Picture perfect: Is the stunning nightclub pic worth all the money it costs you?

It would be easy to look at the thousands of pounds we all waste every year on cosmetics, clothing and – of course – alcohol and lay the blame at our feet. Why can’t we manage our money better? Where’s our restraint?

For many of us, our first loan instalment from Student Finance at the beginning of freshers week is the largest sum of money we’ve ever encountered. And yet, nobody teaches us how to prepare for it. There are no budgeting lessons at GCSE, we’re just expected to figure things out.

Left to our own devices, there’s a chance we’d figure out how best to look after our money. Instead though, that loan instalment coincides with getting an overdraft for the first time, seemingly free money that’s available to spend instantly.

Banks prey on us when we don’t know better, offering a reserve of debt for no initial fees. You don’t realise how serious the debt you’re racking up is until university is over and it’s time to pay it all back, and unlike your student loan you can’t spread this debt out over 30 years.

Weeks after taking the leap into your overdraft, the credit card and loan companies begin to pile in through your letterbox. Turns out the bank which offered you such an attractive student account has become part of the problem by providing your financial information to third parties keen to place you in further debt.

It doesn’t stop there. From the moment you arrive on campus, you’re bombarded by companies and brands that are desperate to get you shopping and spending your money. Shopping centres offer Student Lock-Ins, where stores grant substantial discounts to young people. Maybe it’s harder to notice how much poorer you’re getting when the act of buying something is made to feel like an event. If you don’t go, if you don’t buy anything, if you don’t get one of the few freebies on offer, you’re made to feel like you missed out.

Only a few months ago, you were at a school free of constant advertising from bars, restaurants, retailers and travel agencies but now they doggedly follow you around, pressuring you to part with increasing sums of money. A student discount sounds like such a brilliant idea but realistically you’d never have spent any money there in the first place if the discount had never been offered.

Join the queue

Join the queue to poverty: Student lock-ins like this one turn shopping into a can’t-miss social event

Amid this all-out assault on our purses and wallets, you might wonder: what are the universities doing to help with our financial struggles?

The reality is very little. In return for our £9,000 a year, our institutions fail to protect us from vulturous retailers and banking institutions who aim to wreak further havoc on our bank accounts. They fail to warn us of the dangers of abusing our overdrafts, and they fail to provide an environment free from pressures to spend and buy stuff we don’t really need. Instead, these great academic institutions blitz us with marketing for lavish events and enforce additional course costs on vulnerable freshers year after year, ensuring the cycle of student over-spending is already spinning as soon as we step onto campus.

When freshers week arrives this September, the usual questions will be asked by fresh-faced teenagers, eager to experience the responsibilities of adult life: “Which school did you go to? What will you be studying? What did you get at A-level?”

The sad truth is that after three years, it won’t be grades and academic achievements these once-excitable freshers will be comparing. Instead, the only questions lingering on their lips at graduation will be “How much do you owe?” and “Why didn’t our uni do more to protect us?”