Alisha Rouse For The Daily Mail
- Growing number of students are trying to pay their way through university
- Many are using the power of the internet to launch their own businesses
- The typical graduate now faces leaving university owing up to £50,000
Charleh Dickinson is making speciality cakes and snacks to pay her way through university
It’s six in the morning and Charleh Dickinson is awake in her shared house in Sheffield with a long to-do list.
Like most students, she has hours of lectures to attend and a dissertation to research – and that’s before a three-hour waitressing shift, a gym workout and drinks for a friend’s birthday.
But at the very top of the list is firing off several emails to her supplier. Because Charleh doesn’t fit the modern student stereotype of all play and very little work.
She juggles her studies with running Designed2Eat, the food company she founded to make speciality cakes and snacks.
Her new range of vegan cakes is being released in a matter of weeks – and, before doing anything else, she needs to check the ingredients before she signs off the recipe.
By the time she turns out her light at 10pm, Charleh will have earned enough money to pay her £90 weekly rent – without even touching her student loan.
She is one of a growing number of students trying to pay their own way through university.
Rising course fees and soaring inflation on student loans mean the typical graduate now faces leaving university owing up to £50,000.
The majority of students borrow cash from the partially government-owned Student Loans Company to cover course fees and living costs.
These loans are due back, with interest, once you graduate and are earning more than £21,000 a year.
The tuition fee loans, typically for £9,000 a year, are paid directly to the university. The other loan – known as a student maintenance loan – is paid in three instalments throughout the year.
Students can borrow up to £8,200 a year or £10,702 if they’re studying in London.
In Scotland, Scottish students don’t pay tuition fees. These are paid for by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS).
THE GRADUATE GIVING BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS A HAND
Help: Tom Grafton came up with the idea for Student High Street in 2014
Londoner Tom Grafton says he spotted so many budding student entrepreneurs during his time at the University of Exeter – but there was nowhere they could go for help getting started.
Tom came up with the idea for Student High Street in 2014, during his third year studying politics and geography.
His website will offer an online shop for student entrepreneurs to sell fashion – usually clothes inspired by campus trends – to other students.
He will take 20 per cent commission on every sale – but also offer a range of extra services to give student business a boost.
As well as selling the products, Tom offers help with accounting from major firm KPMG. Students can get legal advice, assistance with marketing – and even stock management tools.
Tom hopes to encourage more students to turn their ideas into reality – and to help many leave university debt-free.
‘Some of these young businesses only need the right tools to reach their potential,’ he says. ‘The idea behind Student High Street was to provide a platform for students to create their own success.
‘And you don’t have to give up the typical university experience to be a business owner. You can still have a thriving social life and do well in your degree. You just have to know what you’re doing.’
Tom’s website studenthighstreet.com will launch on October 31.
Scottish students can get a maintenance loan from SAAS of between £4,750 and £5,750 a year, depending on household income.
Students from the rest of the UK studying in Scotland will pay similar fees to that of an English university – around £9,000 a year.
The bank of mum and dad is feeling the strain as parents try to help their children avoid crippling debts by the age of 21.
So many students are using the power of the internet to launch their own businesses.
Tom Grafton, 25, founder of Student High Street, a website that will help student businesses says: ‘Students today are more digitally savvy, creative and ambitious than ever before.
‘Combine this with an increasingly tough job market for graduates, alongside modern financial pressures, and you’ve created the perfect storm for student entrepreneurs.You just need the right tools.’
VEGAN CAKES THAT WILL PAY MY DEBTS
For some students, Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook from his Harvard dorm room, is an inspiration.
His student business is now a £192 billion social media giant used by 1.7 billion people worldwide.
Others just want to avoid those embarrassing calls to their mum and dad, begging for some extra spending money.
That sense of independence was important to Charleh who, next month, will graduate with a 2:1 in food marketing management.
Snack happy: Charleh Dickinson with some of her healthy snacks. Next month she will graduate with a 2:1 in food marketing management
Her father, Peter, had registered the company for her 19th birthday present – and she was determined not to let him down. ‘My family have such faith in me and have always helped,’ says Charleh. ‘I thought that this was my time to look after myself and be responsible. The company had to be a success.’
While Charleh still took out her student loans, she never had to ask her parents for help with rent or bills. She hopes that her business can now help to pay off her loans quickly before the interest racks up.
However, she warns students that juggling studies with running a business takes serious commitment.
Charleh invested £4,000 of her student loan into her company and worked up to 50 hours a week on it while still studying full-time for her degree.
Her unique range of snacks – which includes a fudge brownie that counts as one of your five-a-day – is stocked in 30 stores, such as her local Knab Farm shop in Sheffield.
Charleh, 22, worked part-time at a cafe in Sheffield and later a PR firm to get the business off the ground. ‘It’s not glamorous, and it’s certainly not easy,’ she says. ‘But if you are confident enough to talk to other business owners and get to know them, then you can quickly build a support network which can really help you.’
STUDENTS LOVE OUR COMPUTER COURSES
Technology is a major part of the revolution in young entrepreneurship. Young people can now set up accounts and manage a business from their university digs using a laptop.
It’s easy to set up a free website and spread the word about a business on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Elliot O’Connor, 22, and Jack Bridger, 24, launched a company called Code At Uni, which teaches other students computer coding.
Elliot (r) and Jack (l) launched a company called Code At Uni, which teaches students computer coding
Coding is a computer language made up of numbers, letters and symbols that are used to create websites and software. It is a highly sought-after skill by employers – particularly as firms expand online.
But coding courses can also be very expensive, costing upwards of £8,000. Elliot and Jack decided to sell their courses directly to universities and charge around £4,000 for 12 hours of teaching to 25 students.
The pair now work with 12 universities and have had interest from America.
They earned enough money to stop taking student loans, but instead decided to take the relatively low interest rates and invest their income back into the company.
Elliot, who has just graduated from the London School of Economics with a first-class honours degree in politics and philosophy, says: ‘It would have been easy to get rid of our loans and pay them off straight away, but it was much more important to invest in the future.
‘I realised everyone wanted to learn how to code, but courses were so expensive and not accessible to students with limited funds. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any money, either.’ Using their technology skills, the pair built the business with no set-up costs.
Elliot adds: ‘We just asked our first teachers, who were students like us, to wait to be paid when we’d set up the courses. Everyone was fine with it because they believed in the idea.’
WE SELL ONESIES TO SPORTS TEAMS
Chris Rea, 24, and his business partner Tom Carson, 25, came up with an idea for a clothing company in their first year studying business management at Exeter.
They noticed that everyone on their campus was wearing a ‘onesie’ – an all-in-one fleece that became hugely popular around Christmas time in 2012.
Enterprising: Chris Rea and Tom Carson put part of their loans into their onesie business
But when they went to buy their own, they could only find cheap onesies for around £10, or top-of-the-range ones for £100. There was nothing of quality in the middle that students could afford.
So, in their second year of studies, the pair invested £3,000 of their student loans into ordering onesies from China. Under their Young Ones brand, they started by taking orders from friends.
Then they moved on to university sports teams and, within a few months, hundreds of fellow Exeter student were asking for one.
The company currently turns over £200,000 a year making a full range of clothes. Chris, who now works full-time at Young Ones, says: ‘A lot of it was just trial and error. We knew we’d found a market, and our customer base was all around us.
‘The first task was to look for someone to produce our clothes. So we went on the website Alibaba, which is basically like Google when you’re searching for suppliers.
‘But the supply chain is one of the most difficult things to get right, and there was an incident a few years ago where we ordered £20,000 of summer stock that didn’t arrive until September.’
Chris, from Manchester, and Tom, from Wellington, Somerset, spent their second year at university living off beans on toast after pouring their student loans into the company.
But they were never too deeply out of pocket because they were able to collect cash from customers before placing orders.
‘It started out with custom orders, such as for a sports team who would all order special onesies. This meant we were never just sitting on piles of stock that we couldn’t sell.’
By the time the pair had entered their third year at university, they had £40,000 in their joint current account. But they refused to dip into the fund and, instead, re-invested it in their business.
Chris says: ‘It’s quite bizarre as a student to know you have that kind of money. But, for us, it was better to carry on taking out a student loan at a low rate than to get a business loan for the company.
‘Now, we’re in a good financial position – far better than if we’d worked at a student bar for £7 an hour – so we’ll easily pay off the loan.’