Poor Students Are Crowdfunding Their Tuition Fees

Who needs a student loan when you can rely on strangers on the internet?

Jul 28 2014, 2:30pm

Nick Gaven.

On the 3rd of July 2014, two young men started crowdfunding to get what they desired. One wanted a potato salad. The other, a master’s degree. The former has since received over $52,000 (£30,000) from internet strangers. The latter, nearly £700 (a fat wedge of which was from his gran).

Nick Gaven is one of the thousands of desperate people using the website GoFundMe to raise money for their further education. Specific sites dedicated to crowdfunding education are even popping up, with one – Hubbub – partnering with the Universities of York and Oxford Brookes. Simply log on, post a persuasive plea and a pretty pic, and with a little help from your (pay)pals you’re on your way. 

“When I set the page up I genuinely didn’t expect this much,” says Nick, who is planning to study a £10,000 Film Aesthetics master’s at Oxford after graduating with a First in Philosophy from Oxford Brookes. His Facebook and Twitter requests have seen fivers and tenners pouring in from friends and family and he’s received a total of £670, well on his way to reaching his initial £1,000 target.   

Some crowdfunding students however, have had a less positive response. Last week 26-year-old Emily-Rose Eastrop made headlines after she was called a "posh brat" on her Hubbub page for attempting to raise £26,000 for a master's, also at Oxford. She hit back in an article for the Telegraph saying, "If people want to paint me as a layabout, that's their prerogative. It's my right to ask people for help, just as it's their right to refuse." Clearly her campaign has worked, as she is now on over £16,000.

Kate Koenig, another person trying to crowdfund education, can’t afford tuition since her parents cut her off after finding out she is gay. It has also worked for sex-trafficking survivor Gabrielle Martin, for whom college is a chance to escape an abusive home.

Nick Gaven's story is different. Raised in quaint North Yorkshire village Newton-le-Willows, he’s not underprivileged and is not overcoming some horrible misfortune, abuse or prejudice. So why does he deserve our money? Are generation Y so entitled that we can’t stack boxes in supermarkets every Saturday to fund our own education? Do we really believe that strangers should fork over hard-earned cash so we can sponsor your Film Aesthetics course? GoFundMe? GoFuckYourself.

“It’s not like that,” says Nick, who has been working in a sandwich shop over the summer, spreading Philadelphia on bagels. He’s getting a bank loan for the cost of his tuition, but still needs money so that he can do little things like pay rent and eat. “I will still need another six, seven thousand pounds,” he says, “you’re not really supposed to work while at Oxford because you’re supposed to treat it like a full time job.”

“I’m very aware of the fact that I’m not particularly unique and I’ve just gone for it because it’s the only way I’ll be able to do the masters,” he admits, pointing out that it’s not just those with X-Factor style sob-stories that deserve the right to higher education. For the majority of UK taught postgraduate students who receive no financial backing from the government or charities, crowdfunding might be the answer.

But many students think making sacrifices and working hard is a more respectable approach than e-begging. Tamsyn Kennedy, who studies MSc Water Resources at Heriott Watt, Edinburgh reckons paying for her education is her own responsibility. “Asking people to give you money out of the goodness of their hearts is charity and there are much more deserving charities than your higher education,” she said. “It’s my education, my benefit and therefore my responsibility to make or borrow the money.”

Nicholas, a 22-year-old who made his dough at Pizza Hut whilst studying his master’s in Cardiovascular Research at King’s, agrees. “Throughout my first degree I worked constantly and in the summer before I started my master’s I worked full time, seven days a week. I also had to use all my childhood savings from birthdays and Christmases,” he said. “I don’t think crowdfunding for education is fair. It’s not fair to just accept money off of other people to fund something you want to do.”

One question to consider is whether or not your degree is going to be worth a shit anyway. Nicholas believes if you’re asking people to donate you should at least be pursuing something that will give back to society, such as medicine, social work, or engineering. “Why would anyone pay ten grand for a Film Aesthetics masters?” he asks.

That said, he admits it was a struggle balancing course work and his job. Should students really be put under this sort of pressure? Even though universities can be bastions of braying class privilege, it is pretty much agreed at least in principle that everyone should have the right to undergraduate education whether they're rich or poor. But the same doesn't really go for postgrads, even though the 2009 Milburn Report discovered postgraduate degrees are increasingly important for many careers. Despite this, the UK is one of only three countries in Europe where less than ten percent of graduates move on to a masters or doctorate.

So, crowdfunding might be the answer for some time to come. But apart from get criticised by strangers on the internet, there's another price to pay. GoFundMe take a ten percent cut, not just from the total amount raised but from every single donation. PayPal also take their 50p cut from each payment, meaning fundraisers only see £3.50 of every £5 donated.

“It was in the fine print,” says Nick, who advises that other students do their research and find sites with lower charges. Behind the human faces and stories on sites like these hide very profitable businesses. Crowdfunding sites specifically for education such as IncitED, CrowdfundEDU, and Piglit charge between five to nine percent of totals raised. Students could just go to their friends and family with hands outstretched, but it remains easier to hide behind a glossy page and well-typed request, which somehow removes the stigma by making begging for yourself look a but more like raising money for a charity fun run.

But if people are willing to give, then why not? “Sure, it could be seen as begging,” says Nick, “but people make their own decision whether they want to help you out or not.” I guess it's a shame that some students feel they have little choice but to crowdfund in the first place.


More stuff on crowdfunding: 

People are Now Crowdfunding Their Funerals Online

The Potato Salad Kickstarter is Incredibly Stupid

Forget Potato Salad, These Guys are Crowdfunding for Drones and Weapons

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