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University, Bargains, and Timing
13 July 2019 18:03

It’s the season of University Open Days for Youngest Child. In the past few weeks she has visited various higher education establishments around the country, with Mrs B and/or me in tow. And that’s the first difference between university Open Days now and back when I went was that age. In my day, prospective students went on their own; today it seems expected that parents will go with them.

Last Saturday I dropped them off at Southampton before going to Southampton parkrun and said I might come and join them later. “Oh, do you have to?” asked Youngest Child. “I had to spend all yesterday with you” [at another university visit]. That put me in my place! She must have realised what she said because, as she closed the car door she added “OK you can come if you want to”. In the end, I did go early to pick them up, but wandered round the campus on my own.

At the university I took her to on my own, there was a talk for prospective students only – no parents allowed. I grabbed a coffee and a cake and waited in the foyer. When the talk finished, I laughed inwardly at the parents who were waving frantically towards their offspring (and then quickly stopping when they realised how much they would be embarrassing their children). Youngest Child laughed inwardly as the students grabbed their phones to see where mum and dad were. Why all this inward laughing? Youngest child and I (especially youngest child) eschew the unnecessary use of phones, so before she went on we had arranged where to meet, and she knew exactly where I would be.

Universities are always complaining about how strapped they are for cash, and how essential it is for fees to be raised. Funny, then, how every university we’ve visited has promoted how many millions of pounds they are spending on new state-of the-art buildings.

We visited the accommodation blocks on the universities; and here’s a couple of other differences between now and then.

The first is that the accommodation blocks are just accommodation blocks. In my day, accommodation was in Halls, which were entities in their own right. Each Hall had a Junior Common Room (JCR) (of which all undergraduates were members – there may have been a small membership fee) with an elected committee that ran it. The Halls took part in intra-university events, alongside teams from faculties.

The second difference is the cost. Around £170 per week. My university accommodation cost me about £20 per week (£57 in today’s money). May be that’s where the universities are getting these millions for new buildings. `Apparently private accommodation is similarly expensive. Someone making a lot of money, and it’s not the students.

Now, I have a theory of two parts for the cause of this price hike. In my day, the amount students received for maintenance was calculated with reference to the costs that would be encountered; the amount allocated for accommodation was £16.50 per week (£48 today). Hence there was a plethora of accommodation for between £14 and £18 per week (Halls were slightly more expensive, but you only had to pay in term-time). The second part of this theory is that this was a grant (albeit means tested). The money never had to be repaid – it came from the government, free, gratis and for nothing. Hence there was an incentive to keep the amount low. Now the money comes in the form of a loan; it has to be repaid. Hence there is not such an incentive to keep the amount low. Arguably, there is more of an incentive to make it higher.

On our way back from this visit (Cambridge, just sayin’) the train we caught came into Liverpool Street, and we walked back to Bank (because I know the way – not that it’s difficult). Youngest Child was impressed with the architecture around the Bank of England – “it reminds me of Rome”. She also shared my amusement at the line map on the Waterloo and City train (there are only two stations; one at the start and one at the end).

Influenced by the enjoyment of walking through the City of London when there are few people about, we thought we might plan a weekend break in London and walk around the city.

I got on internet to see what I could find. How about bed and-breakfast within a stone’s throw of St Paul’s Cathedral for £30 per person per night. Can’t complain at that.

So, all we have to do now I get there. The typical day-return fare is about £50. As we are coming back a different day, it would probably be more. But the new train company in this part of the country does discounted advance fares – the old on didn’t (or if it did, I never found them). There and back for £60 for all of us. BARGAIN. I had to check several times to confirm that they really were quoting for three people, not one!

Mrs B’s sister and family have come to stay for a while. Well, actually Mrs B’s sister and brother-in-law have gone to a conference in Florida, and brought us their children to look after. They flew I to LHR on Thursday and, as there are so many of them, we needed two cars to collect them.

Mrs B and I both headed to the airport after finishing our respective work – and both from different directions. Imagine my amazement when I parked up at the airport and looked up to see Mrs B parking in the space next to mine! What are the chances of that!

More amazingly, Mrs B. had caught up with me on the roundabout coming off the motorway. She’d followed me in all the way to the airport and car park, and I’d not noticed!

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