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Guess why I’m hosting Ann Summers parties?

These are hard economic times but Gabrielle McTaggart is among many young people with a special reason for earning money. Find out why overleaf ... you may be surprised. By Kerry McKittrick

As thousands of students proudly parade through Northern Ireland’s university campuses over the next few weeks clutching their coveted academic qualifications, their thoughts will, no doubt, turn towards the potentially glittering careers ahead.

But those degrees have all come at a high price. Some estimates suggest that many students will leave university with debts of £20,000 or more. This doesn't take into account the higher debts accrued by those doing postgraduate degrees or long-term vocational degrees such as medicine or law.

According to the Student Loan Company the highest amount of student debt for one person exceeds £66,000.

Third-level education may not be the preserve of the elite, but being well-heeled helps. For the vast majority who come from middle- or low-income families, making ends meet during the years of study can be a difficult task. A couple of decades ago university fees were paid by local education authorities who also provided grants which covered all, or most, of students’ living costs. Those days are a fond memory.

Now student fees are more than £3,000 a year, which many students cover by way of loans and who then have to fund their own living costs.

So how do our bright young people fund their years at university — both their studies and their social life?

We talk to some who let us into their life beyond the lecture theatre.

The anatomy student

Gabrielle McTaggart (23) lives in Belfast with her fiance Chris. She is studying anatomy at Queen's and is an Ann Summers party planner. She says:

I've just finished my second year of studying anatomy at Queen's University, Belfast,but I've been a student for three years now because I changed degrees. The first semester of my degree when I wasn't earning was difficult financially. You have to pay £3,500 fees each year and scrimp and save and using loans. My parents haven't been able to help me out so having some earnings has been a godsend.

It all started three years ago when my friend and I had an Ann Summers party in our house just for the laugh. I really enjoyed myself and the rep who came along asked if I would have any interest in becoming a rep myself. I tried it out and have been doing it ever since. I've even become a manager so I now run my own team of reps around Belfast.

Being a rep is really good fun. You go along to each house and play some games with the assembled ladies to break the ice. You show them the different products you have and explain how they work if necessary. I do a little raffle and then take any orders they might want to place. I love the parties. They're always great craic and no two parties are ever the same.

I earn around £60 a party and I can pick and choose how many parties I do. I get business through advertising, my website or any queries that might come into the Ann Summers headquarters.

The parties are usually in the evenings and at weekends so I can easily fit them in around my university timetable which is around 30 hours a week, not including extra study.

I'm planning to study medicine as a postgraduate degree whenever I graduate. I should end up with around £8,000 debt from my B.Sc but all the study I'll need to become a doctor will probably land me with debts of around £20,000.

Student loans don't cover all that much but I think the party planning is making me around £2,000 a year which really helps.”

The law student

Keith McCoy (29) lives in Belfast and is a law student at University of Ulster and also works in internet security at customer contact company gem. He says:

I worked in car sales but in 2009 I decided to go back to university. I have always had an interest in law and I decided it was time to take a bit of a gamble. Law is hard to get into but it's a career — once you're established there's more security.

My fees cost £3,500 a year and that doesn't even include bills, rent, transport and so on. I'm determined to get through university without taking out any student loans which is why I work. My family help me out a bit too so at the end of my degree there will be a lot of IOUs.

Because of my job at gem I think I will manage to make it with just an overdraft although that will be in the thousands.

I started working with gem in September 2009 and they have been fantastic. They're very flexible so it works very well because I can fit my work in around my student timetable. They even give me time off when I'm coming up to exams.

I took a full-time job with as a marketing |consultant during the summer holidays last year and scrimped and saved £2,000 then came back to gem again at the beginning of this year. It helps that I have previous experience in sales but there are plenty of people who don't have much experience and they're fully trained on the job.

Law is mostly self-taught so I only have nine hours of lectures and tutorials each week. They estimate that to scrape a pass you need to do at least 14 hours of reading per module per week and I do three modules a term.

It's a lot of reading particularly as I'd like to enter the Institute of Professional Legal Studies after I graduate and for that you need a top degree. The company's working hours are from 8am-9pm and they are flexible as to what hours I can work.

I earn around £130 a week here obviously depending on what hours I work.

I hope to be able to graduate with £5,000-£6,000 debt which isn't too bad in this day and age.”

The criminology student

Gerard Brammeld (23) lives in Belfast. He works as a buff butler, events manager and next year will study criminology and psychology at Queen's. He says:

When I left school I became a personal trainer at a gym. I've also began to do volunteer work with young offenders in my area. I was made redundant from the gym and because of my volunteer work I decided the timing was right to go back to university and study criminology and psychology. I want to use the degree to work with young offenders. I've seen how young people in my area can fall in with the wrong crowd simply because there's nothing to do and they don't know any better. For the last year I've been doing an access course which is the equivalent of three A-levels and that has gained me acceptance onto the course at Queen's University already.

My course has around 20 hours of classes with a lot of reading on top of that so it doesn't leave you a lot of extra time to have a job. The last year wasn't too bad financially as the access course didn't have any fees.

The next few years will be different though as my fees will be over £3,000 each year.

I've been very lucky because I've been able to earn money in a couple of different ways. I started being a buff butler simply because it pays well and most of the work is in the evenings or at weekends. You simply go to corporate events and dress in an apron and bow-tie — trousers are optional — and hand around drinks and talk to people there.

Through that I gained work doing events and promotions for an English company. One weekend a month I go down to the Liffey Valley shopping centre near Dublin to promote the new Sky 3D channel for them. It takes up the whole weekend but again it does pay quite well.

The plan is to be able to pay half of my £3,245 per year fees at Queen's and pay my own living expenses. The rest of the fees I'll pay with student loans.

If I'm lucky I'll manage to graduate with only about £5,000-£6,000 in debt after my degree.

It's hard to know how much I earn because I don't work all the time. I think it's around £7,500 a year though give or take.

It's tougher and tougher to go to university these days because the cost just keeps going up and up. I think there could well be a drop in numbers of people going to university because they just won't be able to afford it.

I'm one of the lucky ones because I'm able to support myself for the most part.

I'm not too sure what exact job I'll do but I would say I'll have to do some kind of postgraduate degree when I graduate.”

The psychology student

Antonia Breslin (22) lives in Belfast and is studying psychology at Queen's university. She works as a model. She says:

I changed my degree from English to Psychology but once I turned 21 I knew I would have to start paying my own fees — my parents have always been very keen for me to stand on my own two feet.

Before I started modelling I worked in Starbucks and in Hollister but I still needed to take out a maintenance loan of around £2,500.

I live at home so I don't have to pay rent but I do have to pay for food and clothes and petrol.

I fell into modelling because I entered the Miss Northern Ireland competition last year and ended up in the final seven. I got a modelling contract with the Alison Campbell agency after that and it's been a godsend.

I can say yes or no to any job that I'm offered so it's very easy to fit around my studies.

Although I don't have many hours of lectures in a week there's a lot of reading involved.

Some days I go to the library at 9am and don't leave until 6pm.

If I have too much academic work on then I simply don't model.

I can support myself and pay most of my fees through my earnings modelling now so if I'm lucky I'll manage to leave |university with no more than £5,000 of debt which is pretty good.

I'm hoping to do a Ph.D at some point but after I graduate I might take a year out and work with Alison full time.

Studying is great but it's good to give your brain a rest every now and then.”

how it all adds up ...

The average student spend per year:

  • Fees — between £3,000 - £3,500.
  • Rent — Belfast students can expect to pay up to £3,200 per year for private housing.
  • Food — depending on where you shop, food costs will be around £1,000.
  • Again, depending on where you live, costs including transport, utilities, clothes and going out are expected to cost between £3,000 — £3,500.

Tips to help you budget at Uni

  • Buy second hand books, from charity bookshops and websites such as and
  • Avoid credit and store cards. They tend to have very high levels of interest which means the debt can take years to pay off.
  • Budget. Students get their money at irregular intervals so making loans last is important. Working out what you can afford to spend on a weekly basis is key to managing your money.
  • Most student unions will have a student budget planner available.
  • Supermarket own brands and special offers are a good way to economise, as is buying in bulk.
  • Go shopping once a week as it's more economical, bring a list and stick to it.
  • Learn how to cook. Homemade meals are always more cost effective than ready-made microwave ones. This goes for lunches too.

Belfast Telegraph


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