Nag and persist, it’s the only way

Fees are higher than ever; job prospects are as low as ever. It’s becoming clear that being a student isn’t as glamorous as college made it out to be, says Louie Zeegen

On 9 December 2010, I was being ‘kettled’ in Parliament Square while the House of Commons voted for the Tory policy of a rise in the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 by a vote of 323 to 302. After the battle had been lost, we waited countless hours and were finally able to go home. But that’s now in the past, and students and young creatives alike are faced not just with the fear of having to pay huge amounts of money, but also with the reality of it.

When I started my course, the amount of debt that I was faced with was, and still is, pretty large. Then again, to me at 18, it was just a number. But now in my final year and with job prospects looking bleak that number is becoming more important. With a quick bit of maths, including my loans for tuition and maintenance, I’m in a minimum of £21,000 of debt before I even graduate – and that’s not taking into account overdrafts and so on. For students graduating two years from now, though, it’s even worse. Their tuition fees alone come to £27,000, and after around £10,500 worth of maintenance loans they’re looking at the best part of £40,000 of debt.

This piece isn’t setting out to weigh up the pros and cons of the new policies because, well, that would be a fairly one-sided argument. But enough about figures and stats – now that this is a reality for thousands of fresh-faced, eager students, the question isn’t over the pros and cons, but of the implications of what the rise in fees means. Obviously, people are pretty peeved. Arguably it was the ‘young’ vote that got the Liberal Democrats anywhere near power. I for one was too young to vote in the last election, but I know several people who voted for them. To me, a vote for the Lib Dems was a pseudo-hipster vote for the underdog – a dog that eventually came back round to bite everyone.

There’s an air of nervousness around graduation this year. We’re unsure of what comes next, considering that job prospects for graduates are low. Maybe our nervousness is only natural, but life beyond university is a daunting one. If I’m this worried, with my amount of debt, I can only imagine what 2014-15’s graduates are going to be feeling. Job anxiety has already begun for some people; a friend of mine, a second year designer, is already charging £75 a day for freelance design work, demonstrating that it’s just as important to think about work during a degree, to make ends meet. You try to put the subject you’re studying to use and do freelance design work, which is obviously preferable, or do what I did and work at Pizza Hut for minimum wage – kind of depressing, but once you weigh up all the free pizza it’s pretty okay.

There’s a fast realisation between your second and third years that you’ve got to get your foot in the door, and get it in there quickly. It’s all very well being to able to charge £75 a day, but I’ve found, like many others, that free work is usually the way to get a potential employer’s attention. You can also sieve through websites looking for vacancies, and now, in the age of Twitter, follow the specific accounts tweeting job opportunities. Trouble is, if you do it for long enough it gets pretty soul destroying – but you also might get lucky.

I’m yet to do this, but I can feel my day is coming. For example, last summer, through persistence and borderline nagging, I started a short placement at It’s Nice That on my 20th birthday, followed by another one at the publishers Marshall Editions and assisting Anthony Burrill in setting up his Mesa & Cadeira exhibition at Kemistry Gallery. It’s slowly becoming another clich, a mixture of ‘who you know’ and ‘what you know’. They may have been short placements, but it’s odd jobs and free work that puffs up a CV. When thousands of young people cite their degrees on their CVs, it’s about standing out with experience and not relying just on the title your degree gives you to get a job – a job that will hopefully enable you to pay back what you borrowed to pay those extortionate fees.

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