‘I've slept with people for money and I've been on dates with disgusting guys and put myself at risk just so I could have dinner and some leftovers for the next day.’
These are the harrowing words of a female first-year student describing the extraordinary lengths she went to in order to pay her way at university.
She found herself turning to ‘sugaring’ websites, which mostly introduce older wealthy men willing to lavish expensive gifts and cash to young women in return for company and often – but not always – sex. And as well as partnering ‘sugar daddies’ with bright, young things, the websites also connect ‘sugar mummies’ to them too.
The hard-up 19-year-old mentioned above is far from alone in turning to extreme means to get by at uni. Facing average monthly costs of £790, while the average monthly maintenance loan equates to just £540, students are having to cope with a monthly shortfall of £250. And eight out of 10 students admit finding it difficult to plug the gap.
These are the findings of the Save the Student website’s annual survey, which also discovered six per cent of the more than 2,000 students it spoke to had sold their bodies to help make ends meet – either by engaging in sexual activity or by taking part in medical trials.
The 19-year-old philosophy student said she first heard about ‘sugar dating’ on a blogging site. ‘The idea of getting easy money with something I already have [the ability to have sex, and the ability to entertain someone] made me interested.
‘I don’t come from a rich family so I was interested in getting money quickly and easily.’
Through the sites she appeared on, she made arrangements with sugar daddies to spend time with them in exchange for monthly allowances of around £1,000 – and sometimes she’d come away from her liaisons with gifts too.
Another student admitted to selling her dirty underwear through a fetish site to help pay the bills.
‘I get about £3,300 in a maintenance loan, and my rent for the year is about £4,500, so it doesn't even cover that, let alone bills, food, transport and uni supplies,’ she explained.
‘It was a struggle to pay for my rent, bills and food out of my student loan, maxed out overdraft and the income from my part-time job.’
In need of some extra cash and hearing from other students making money selling from their underwear, the 21-year-old student took out a £15-a-month subscription to an underwear trading website.
‘Almost immediately I was contacted by individuals who were after some of my products and I quickly saw that there were a lot more options than just underwear. Many members were also selling custom photos and videos, other items of worn clothing, and other more personal items - almost every type of bodily fluid seemed to be in demand.’
She now earns the shortfall between her loan and rent, £100 a month, selling one or two items a week – though she adds that she could be making a lot more. The extra money means she doesn’t have to keep going back to her parents for help.
Other financially desperate students have turned to other risky means of making money to fund university life.
An EU national studying in Scotland told Save the Student she was forced into ghostwriting essays, dissertations and even entire degrees for cheating students after work she had been promised by her university failed to materialise following budget cuts. She says she’ll earn £15,000 this year by helping the cheats – many from outside the EU who struggle with even basic English.
‘I know it is not ethical, but I have no other choice to pay for my own education,’ she said. ‘Most the agencies I work for keep the copyright. If the students submit the work as their own, they are the ones committing academic deceit.’
She told Save the Student she believes university is ‘increasingly becoming a business in which the people who have a lot of money can just purchase their degrees, and the people who have the intelligence and talent fight for sheer survival’.
She added: ‘When I finish my own degree, I will probably have completed at least ten other full degrees at the same time. Others not only have the money to pay for their fees and living expenses, but are also able to afford paying for someone to else to do all the work for them.'
While such tales of students turning to risky means to pay their way through university are still rare, they serve as a sad indictment of our society’s continued failure to financially educate the young. Save the Student found that a quarter of students don’t budget for university living costs at all, and a third have absolutely no back-up funds. Most rely on their parents for support.
Of course, the Government could be doing more to help students with the cost of university by topping up loans or cutting fees, but if we educated people from an early age about the building blocks of financial security – such as saving – we could prevent more students turning to shady ways to put themselves through uni.
Laura Whitcombe is knowledge and product editor at ThisisMoney.co.uk.