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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Welcome to a different world
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

More than a third of a million students around the UK are starting university.

Students at Sussex University's freshers' fair
Coming to university is a nervy experience

Many are leaving home for the first time, with the prospect of a debt the size of a mid-1990s mortgage when they graduate.

They are also dealing with hundreds of new faces and a completely new way of learning, not to mention an enforced crash course in cooking, cleaning and shopping.

So how are the freshers - the name given to all new students - of 2003 coping with life? Do they think their time at university will be a blast or a slog?

BBC News Online spoke to some of the 3,200 men and women attending the freshers' festival at Sussex University.

Faced with a choice of 120 societies to join, books to buy and people to meet, it was very far from most of their home lives.

Degree nerves for Nikki

Nikki Holman, 19, an English student, came to Sussex straight from school in Sherbourne, Dorset.

She said: "It's a bit daunting. I've come here with so many expectations. I want everything to go well, but this is a three-year course, so I'll have to wait and see.

Nikki has worries about adjusting from A-levels

"When I was doing A-levels, I could just revise a book for an exam and that was it. Here it's different. I'll have to do more for myself.

"I'm expecting to leave with a debt of about 12,000, and that's without an overdraft. I want to get a part-time job while I'm here to pay for some of the costs.

"My big worry is that in years to come I'll want to buy a house, but I'll have all this debt to worry about.

"At the moment, I live in a house with 18 people and only about seven are British, so it's very unlike home.

"But, while it's all new and very different, I feel a sense of freedom more than anything."

Alastair's salad days

Alastair Geddes, 18, from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, is studying media practice and theory and has been to the pub every night so far.

He said: "It's been really good. But we have been given so much information, it's hard to know what to do with it.

"It will take a little while to filter it all through but, so far, everyone's been really friendly.

Chores are not distracting Alastair from enjoying himself

"It's definitely good to be away from home. It's really refreshing. I've already got a new outlook on things.

"I think being at this place will make me more confident and able to do things on my own.

"Cooking has been a nightmare, though. I've made myself salad, which was basically lettuce and salad cream, and a few sandwiches, and that's it.

"But it's hard to learn new skills like cooking when there are so many things going on. I was a bit worried about that, but everyone's in the same situation.

"It's a bit hard budgeting. I've decided I'm not going to hold back while I'm here, though, for the sake of a few hundred pounds. I want to live for the moment.

"My opinion is that by going to university, I'll be able to earn enough eventually to pay back my debts.

"People have told me that A-levels are as hard as it gets in education. I never worried too much about them, so that's a good sign.

"I'm also here now, studying a subject I've chosen and enjoy, so there won't be any problems with my commitment."

Tara's gap-year confidence

Tara Bowker, 19, from north London, had a gap year before university.

Suddenly you are on your own, says Tara

During that time, she worked at Hamley's toy shop in London, travelled around Egypt and Europe and ended up working at a watersports shop in Barcelona, Spain.

She expects to graduate with around 25,000 of debt.

Tara said: "I was a very young 18 when I had done my A-levels, so I deferred my course by a year. I think it's made me much more confident as a person.

"Even then, when I was on the way here, I was really nervous. I got here and everyone was friendly, but it's still pretty scary.

"Suddenly your parents are gone and you're left on your own, as a student.

"We don't know where everything is yet. It's all so big.

"In my accommodation block there are 100 people, so we all go out together.

"You notice how people react differently to nerves. Some are walking around talking to everyone, while others are far quieter.

"I think people will settle down quite soon. I'm enjoying myself and I'm sure most other people will."

Well-travelled Alex

Alex Garcia has come further than most of the Sussex freshers to study - from Valencia, Spain, in fact.

At 29, after learning the English language from scratch in Brighton and taking an access course, he is starting a degree in sociology.

Alex is hoping to avoid the debts other freshers will run up

Alex said: "People are very friendly here. I'm coming here to improve my knowledge of the world.

"The access course was in sociology, which was a subject I enjoyed, so I'm doing it here.

"When I finish, I want to go back to Spain to work. People there have a lot of respect for an English education.

"I'm lucky that I'm a mature student and the European Union is paying my fees, but I've still got to pay my accommodation and living costs.

"I don't envy the debts some of the students are going to face."

  • BBC News Online will revisit the Sussex freshers at the end of each term to find out how they are getting on.


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