THE SECRET Life of Students, now on TV, was billed as an exploration of “the drama” of 12 new students on campus.
The documentary has an unusual level of access into lives of the (willing) participants, screening Tweets, Facebook messages and texts – but its content was hardly a revelation.
In an episode aired last week, students at Leicester University experienced hard-drinking, one night stands and crude ‘banter’ – and for one young man, a dose of chlamydia.
With two universities within shouting distance, Glyndwr University in Wrexham and Chester University, residents will be aware of the louder elements of student life – even if they are less aware of the more quietly behaved members of the college.
But even though students in Wrexham and Chester may share a number of things in common, whether it’s an unerring ability to sniff out a student night drink offer or the grit to knuckle down and bury their nose in their work, one thing makes them very different.
In Chester, students can be expected to pay up to £9,000 per year in fees, while their fellow undergraduates in Wrexham will stump up an estimated £3,685 for a year of study (these figures are not absolute).
This happens because the Welsh Government pays fees above £3,685 by awarding a Welsh Government Fee Grant – which students do not have to repay as long as they complete the course.
In 2010, the cap on student fees rose to £9,000 and, in England, there is no equivalent grant available to all students.
Are Welsh residents happy to see Welsh Government support for lower university fees continue?
Michelle Maddocks, 46, of Wrexham, said: “It’s a fantastic use of our money."
Julie Lloyd, 48, of Wrexham, said: “As my daughter Sophie is going to university this September, then yes, I do think it’s a good use of taxpayers money. Without this my daughter would not be able to go as we are on a low income and wouldn’t be able to pay. Thank God for the taxpayers helping my daughter live her dream.”
Rob Walsh, 38, a lecturer from Wrexham, had concerns about the sustainability of the policy – not because the idea was unsound but because of the way it is being run.
He said: “The problem the Welsh Government has is they are seriously underfunding Welsh universities.
“They are relying on English students coming over to Wales in large numbers.
“This is not happening and I suspect the Welsh Government will ditch this policy in three years time – or a Welsh university could go bankrupt.”
For some, university did not provide a direct path to the life they thought they’d lead.
Steph Culkin, 30, said: “The lowest point has to be that I’m still paying off my student loan 10 years later. It’s pointless too as I’ve never used my qualifications to get a job.
“I studied criminal justice and environmental science and I’ve worked in the wedding industry for seven years!”
Andy Johnson, 30, originally of Connah’s Quay, had a jaundiced view of student lifestyles after spending time at college, which is funded slightly differently to university.
He said: “I was a student president for the student union at Deeside College.
“A lot of students were going out every other night in Chester and Wrexham (and spending money) when really they should have been using it for living and education.
“The system’s messed up in every college and university. They need to take a serious look at it right across the UK.”
In the main, residents were supportive of the measure.
Sandra Griffiths, 49, of Wrexham, said: “My daughter will be starting her third year at uni this coming September.
“Every penny she has been given to help her attend university she will be paying back once she’s finished her course and has joined the workforce.”
Andy Higgins, 37, of Wrexham, said: “It’s better to give it to students. At least qualified students will be a use to us in the future.”
Dorne Price, 49, from Broughton, said: “I’d rather give money to students than subsidise MPs expenses!”
For Ryan Thomas, 21, of Halkyn, the realities of university life are still fresh.
He said: “The real question is how much do we value education? Unemployment rates have risen drastically in recent times and everyone wants the best for themselves.
“Restricting access to a decent education just because you are from a low income working class family (like I am) is detrimental to the progression of society.”
Mr Thomas said university opens people up to new ideas and ways of thinking and his experience in university has helped shape who he is.
He said: “University may not be suitable for everyone but everyone should have the opportunity to study if they want to.
“The argument that students only go out and drink and don’t study is a misguided conception.
“I agree students do tend to go out a lot and many have learnt how to ‘get smashed on £10’ but they more than make up for the work when it gets down to the nitty gritty.
“I implore people to spend their time around a university during exam period and you will see how ridiculously dedicated people are to their studies.”
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