Student life – 1960s and now – loans and debts.

Student Days


How times have changed. I was listening on the radio today as a student was explaining how they left college after their three year course owing £50,000 – £60,000.

That’s a lot of money hanging around your neck to start life with.

It set me thinking.

I left college after my three year degree in London owing nothing.

There are a number of reasons for this.

  1. We did not have any tuition fees
  2. We received a grant (back in 1971 it was £333 a year – it wasn’t huge – would be worth around 4 thousand these days)
  3. We worked a lot of the holidays to earn enough to supplement that grant
  4. Our parents helped out with food provisions and petrol money
  5. We lived incredibly frugally in conditions that few people would tolerate and rents were cheap.

In my second year at college I spent the first three weeks sleeping on floorboards with a sleeping bag in a squat on Ilford High Street.

We, my friend and I, then managed to get a small room in a flat. It was big enough for two single beds and a small aisle between with no other furniture. There was no heating and it was so cold that the French Windows had ice on the inside. We blocked all the gaps with newspaper and bought a paraffin heater which took the chill off. We piled all our coats and clothes on the bed to keep us warm.

There was a basin in the corner of our room but no hot water and the toilet was outside in the yard.

We ate one meal a day. Breakfast was a mug of cocoa. Our evening meal was made as cheaply as possible. We scrounged cheese scraps and bacon ends from the supermarkets and stale bread from the bakers. We bought a sheep’s head and boiled it with vegetables to create a kind of Irish stew, or put the cheese and bacon end with potato to create a mound of mash, or bought a pig’s head and boiled that up to make brawn. We ate for next to nothing and spent a lot of time starving.

We saved what money we had for entertainment. There were albums to buy (at a £1 a time) and gigs to go to. Fortunately the entrance fee was usually between 12p and 25p (to see top bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac) and there were a lot of free gigs.

Apart from when I went home in the holidays and met up with old friends I don’t remember having a single beer for the whole three years.

We did not buy much in the way of clothes. Jeans, shirts and jumpers with holes in, patched and we’d fray out the bottoms. When I went back for the term I was on my motorbike and took everything in a rucksack. Not a lot.

I doubt that many students these days would dream of living the kind of life we led. We were pretty destitute but that didn’t stop us enjoying ourselves. We had great fun. Wouldn’t swap it for anything.

I’m not sure that the easy loans are good. Money is too easy to come by and go through. It can be spent on clothes, drink and fun and it soon mounts up. It has got to be paid back with interest one day!

Some of our things were good (no tuition fee and a small grant) but we were hardly spoilt. We lived in poor conditions compared to the present day.

Times have changed.

13 thoughts on “Student life – 1960s and now – loans and debts.

  1. That’s actually a terrific summation! (Though OML! Really? A REAL sheep’s head???) And if it’s like here, one degree doesn’t usually cut it so they have to go on to get a Masters and a PhD. My son has two BA that are apparently worthless. One in Psychology and one in Criminal Justice… The world of education sucks these days… It was better the way you described it!

    • I used to buy them from the abattoir. A sheeps head cost around 7p-8p back then. You skinned it, added vegetables and boiled it up. It did meals for four for a week.
      The pig’s head was similar but we made brawn out of that. One time my little sister (who was about three) chased Liz round the house with the pig’s ears!

  2. Read today that most graduates won’t earn enough to make it worthwhile taking out a loan to study. Tragic loss of faith in the value of education, where price is the only consideration.

  3. Pingback: Student life – 1960s and now – loans and debts. | Opher's World

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