The rising cost of tuition has forced greater numbers of British college students into prostitution and sex work to pay for their education, according to The National Union of Students (NUS).
Starting next year, fees in English universities will be as high as £9,000 ($13,946) per year -- almost triple the current maximum charge. Some government financial aid packages for students -- including the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) -- have also been eliminated as part of the government’s campaign to cut spending.
NUS also claimed students are resorting to gambling or even participating in medical experiments in a desperate bid to raise cash for school.
Estelle Hart, the NUS national women's officer, told BBC: Students are taking more dangerous measures. In an economic climate where there are very few jobs, where student support has been massively cut, people are taking more work in the informal economy, such as sex work. It's all dangerous unregulated work, simply so people can stay in education.
She estimated that about one-fifth of women working in lap dancing clubs in Britain are students.
BBC reported that a London-based organization that helps prostitutes, The English Collective of Prostitutes, said the number of calls it receives from students has doubled over the past year.
Sarah Walker, a representative of the group, told BBC: They [government ministers] know that the cuts they're making are driving women into things like sex work. It's a survival strategy so we would hold the government responsible for that.
Walker also told Reuters: It's right across the sex industry. With sex work, you can work for maybe one evening a week and make enough money to cover all your expenses. It's younger students who are just starting out in university and also women who are going back trying to get a degree or increase their skills.
With youth unemployment in Britain reaching record highs, it is that group that is being particularly smothered by the economic malaise.
One 18-year-old female student told BBC: I couldn't go to college without EMA. My travel costs are £70 ($108) a month, without it I don't know what I'd have done. I didn't know who I could go to in college, and I didn't want to rely on my family. I began looking for jobs, but the hours were unsociable. A lot of my friends have gone on to shop work, and have ended up leaving college. I didn't want that to be me.
She added: I had a friend who'd been trying to get me to join his escort agency since I was 16. He was telling me stories about how much I could earn, how the hours would fit around me, that I could control who I saw, when I saw them and how often. It just sounded more desirable. I couldn't see any other option.
The government countered that students can still receive some kinds of financial support.
Under the current university funding system, no student has to pay in advance for tuition and there is a generous package of financial support to help with living costs in the form of loans and non-repayable grants,” said a spokesman for the government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, according to The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Our reforms will make the system even fairer, with more financial support and lower monthly repayments once you are in well-paid work.
Similarly, a spokesman for the Department for Education told British media: We are targeting £180 million ($279 million) a year financial support at the most vulnerable 16 to 19-year-olds to help them continue their studies – with transitional funding for the students who were getting the top rate of EMA and part-way through their studies. It is down to schools and colleges themselves to award bursaries to young people who need the most help. If students are really struggling financially, they need to speak directly to their tutors.