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European students: We can’t afford to live

STUDENT INCOME SURVEY - A large proportion of Europe’s students reckon they don’t have enough funds to cover their monthly expenses, a comprehensive survey shows. Labour market expert says the situation is 'desperate'

A large number of European students have been hit so hard by the financial crisis that they don’t have the money to pay their bills.

The economic hardship makes them deeply dissatisfied with their economic situation. This can be seen in a survey by the Eurostudent project which is funded by the German government and the European Commission.

71 per cent of students in Portugal, 62 per cent in Romania and 44 per cent in Spain strongly disagree with the claim ‘I have sufficient funding in order to cover my monthly costs.’ 41 per cent in Estonia, 39 per cent in Ireland and 38 per cent in Latvia also answer that their money is not sufficient.

Greece, the European country hardest hit by the crisis, didn’t participate in the survey.

See a graphic with the different countries here (slightly hard to read).

Desperate situation

Young people, especially in southern Europe, are caught between a rock and a hard place with no real possibility of changing their situation, according to Per Kongshøj Madsen, a professor at the Center for Labour Market Research at Aalborg University in Denmark. He has done research on the effects of the European economic crisis.

He points to the fact that the unemployment rate for young people in Spain has surpassed 50 per cent, making it difficult for students to get a foothold on the labour market, or even a part-time job.

»They are stuck living with their parents and off their [parents’, ed.] money. They don’t have a reliable income and cannot get a housing loan in the bank, so they don’t have any possibility of moving to another city or to another country in search for a job or a better place to study. The situation is really desperate for young people, so it is no wonder that they get fed up and take to the streets demonstrating for change, but there are simply no public funds available to improve their conditions,« Per Kongshøj Madsen says.

He adds that it is only the well-off, the most talented, and the ones who have already tried travelling abroad, who manage to leave.

Risk of debt trap

The European Students’ Union (ESU) is an umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students. Allan Päll, its executive committee chairman, agrees that the situation looks dim for students in several European countries, but he points out that the problem is not exclusively the low level of income.

The fact that more and more countries are introducing, or considering introducing higher tuition fees, and turning student grants into loans is creating resentment among students.

»There is a strong and growing feeling of unfairness among an increasing number of students all over Europe. Benefits as loans really put them in a tough spot in the future because they need to get a job fast after graduating if they should have any chance of repaying the money, but the unemployment rate is so high that they risk falling into a debt trap,« Allan Päll says.

He adds that the situation is forcing an increasing number of students to move back and live with their parents to reduce costs.

Different worlds

The Eurostudent-survey shows wide variations in income among European students.

Students living away from their parents in Norway top the list with an average monthly income (grants, loans, job income, family funds, etc.) equivalent to EUR 1,799, followed by students in Switzerland who have EUR 1,668 and England and Wales with EUR 1,502.

At the bottom of the list you find students living away from their parents in Malta who have a monthly income of a paltry EUR 97. In Lithuania, the students have, on average, EUR 276 and Turkish students EUR 293.

Among the students still living at home with their parents the most favoured are the students from England and Wales who have a monthly income equivalent to EUR 1,201. Second highest on the list are students from Switzerland with an income of EUR 1,153 and third Norwegian students with EUR 1,039.

Last among the students living with their parents are Romanian students with an average income of EUR 155, second to last are the Maltese students who have EUR 173 and third to last are their Croatian counterparts with EUR 188.

The survey reveals that tuition fees eat up a large chunk of the students´ income in several countries.
In Lithuania the fee of EUR 177 takes up 42 per cent of the total monthly expenditure for bachelor students. The highest fees are in England and Wales with EUR 278 on average per month for a bachelor student and in Ireland with EUR 269 a month.

The only countries without any tuition fees are Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

It’s all about expectations

According Dr. Dominic Orr, who heads the international coordination team for the Eurostudent project that did the survey, there is a correlation between the total amount of money the students have available, and the level of dissatisfaction. But the connection is not as clear as one might expect.

The Italian students, for instance, are surprisingly the most satisfied with their income situation. But they are not those with the most money in their hands. And the most dissatisfied, the Portuguese, are not the students that have the least.

Dr. Dominic Orr explains that it is all about what expectations students have about their living conditions, and about what their possibilities are in life.

»There is no way students from Scandinavian countries or Germany would be able to study under the conditions offered in, for example, many Eastern European countries. It is still normal to live with two people in one small dormitory room and to study and work long hours at the same time. This is just a fact of life for many students in these countries but we live in an increasingly globalized world, so they are also beginning to ask themselves why they have to live like this,« Dominic Orr says.

Actually the students who are most economically dissatisfied, are living in dormitories, while the most satisfied are living at home with their parents. One possible explanation is that dormitories in some countries are of a low standard.

According to Dominic Orr it is not sufficient only to look at the student´s average income. To get a clear picture of the situation, you also need to compare the distribution of income among students in each country.

Countries with free study grants for all students – which is the case for Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Denmark – have a more equal income distribution than countries where students rely on help from their parents, loans or paid employment.

Countries like Ireland, Portugal, Poland, Estonia, Slovakia and Czech Republic all have a vast gap between the income of the richest and poorest students. This is the cause of dissatisfaction among the students with the least money.

Severe consequences

According to Dominic Orr, economic hardships disrupt the learning process for a great number of students as they can’t concentrate on their studies.

The ones who are lucky to find a paid job have to work longer hours to make both ends meet. If students work more than 11 hours a week, it will have a negative effect as it will take time away from their studies, he reckons.

The Eurostudent survey shows that students in Poland work an average 19 hours a week at their paid job, while students in the Czech Republic and in Estonia spend 15 hours a week, and the Portuguese, 14 hours a week.

According to Dominic Orr some students are forced to move back home because the parents can’t afford to give their children money.

Malta is at the top of the list of countries where most students live with their mom and dad at 76 per cent. 73 per cent of Italian students live at home and 51 per cent of Spanish students. In Norway it is 7 per cent, 6 per cent in Finland and only 4 per cent in Denmark. Yet again, Greece was not part of the survey.

»I am not saying it is bad to live with your parents and in some countries it is just a matter of tradition, but our Italian counterparts tells us that it does have consequences. Students living with their parents have to shuttle longer to and from university which takes time from their studies. And living at home makes it difficult to evolve into an independent and critical person who is in complete control of his or her own life, which is also one of the purposes of studying at the university,« Dominic Orr says.

He himself estimates that countries like the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland offer the best conditions for students in Europe.

”… loans really put students in a tough spot because they need to get a job fast after graduating if they should have any chance of repaying the money…”

– Allan Päll, European Students’ Union

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