The desperate rise of crowd-funded degrees
They want your money for their education
Since Oxford “posh brat” Emily-Rose Eastop successfully raised £26k for her degree through Hubbub.net a handful of students have followed suit, turning to the internet to fund their feed and leave their overdrafts untouched.
Keziah Conroy is just one of the students who have turned to crowdfunding to pay their dues.
Keziah, hoping to take up a masters in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation at UCL, graduated with first last year and was awarded a prize for the best dissertation in her year, but despite a £2000 scholarship is still far short of the £13,650 she needs for her Masters.
A former McDonald’s employee, she says: “With a minimum wage job, doing eight hour shifts, I would have to work 400 days a year to make enough money. With rent in an east London flatshare at about £7,000 I knew I wouldn’t be able survive if I took up this course. Crowdfunding is my only option.”
However, crowdfunding for tuition is more difficult and supposedly less likely to be successful than campaigns for other causes. Genevieve Richardson, who raised £13,910 to study at Oxford said: “It’s a lot harder than I expected to be, and you have to work relentlessly on your own little marketing campaign”.
“There’s no crowd of benevolent strangers out there just waiting for the next student to fund”, says Jonathan May, CEO of Hubbub. “Crowdfunding only works where it’s driven by a passionate young person.”
Running a tuition campaign can also bring a lot of negative attention that can be difficult to face. Keziah’s financial quest even saw her featured in national newspapers.
She said: “When my story ran in the Daily Mail some of the reader comments were horrible. I don’t look at them now. People can be very judgemental.”
Richardson has also suffered abuse for her campaign, but hits back at her critics. She said: “Students who try to crowdfund for education are never forcing anyone to donate. They are merely putting their feelers out and seeing if anyone would be so kind as to support them because they simply do not have the means themselves.”
Jonathan May encourages student crowdfunders to stand firm: “Many of the comments you will see online boil down to ‘if you can’t afford it, don’t go’, ‘why should others pay’ and ‘me or my son or my daughter sacrificed everything and worked 36 hour weeks to fund my courses’.
“In my view, those positions are untenable – the first belies a lack of belief in equality of opportunity, the second a misunderstanding about the funding model, which is entirely optional on the part of the donor and the final point is a straw man argument combined with ‘it’s not fair’. Just because one person worked hard to fund their course a certain way doesn’t mean anyone should feel unable to fund it another way.”
But he highlights a problem for students using the model: “It doesn’t do anything to narrow the opportunity gap. Because the power of personal networks is such a critical component of success in crowdfunding, it often magnifies inequality. If a student with wealthy family, substantial existing networks, or friends in high places attempts to crowdfund, their success rates are much higher.
“This means those without such opportunities find the same lack of opportunity present in what is supposed to be democratic finance. In reality, whilst crowdfunding is democratic in most other areas, in education funding, it’s too often simply a reflection of the wealth of one’s own personal network.”
From next year the government will be introducing a postgraduate tuition loan of up to £10k but some remain skeptical.
Oxford student Genevieve said: “It is a step in the right direction compared with bank loans, but I wish there were means tested maintenance and tuition fee grants available to encourage students from low and middle income families to pursue postgraduate study. If we are to improve social mobility, saddling students with more debt isn’t the answer.”
Keziah, who has so far raised nearly £7,000 online, adds: “What we have to remember, is that government is so eager to tell young people to aim high but for those of us who have seized on every opportunity to do so through working hard at our studies it is a kick in the teeth to fall at the last hurdle because of money. That isn’t mobility. It’s a false promise.”
Find Keziah’s crowdfunding page here.