A group of female students are waiting in the lounge of an escort agency in London. Some have books splayed on their laps; others are keying in dissertations on laptops. In between they take a break, go out with men and return with more pounds in their handbags. The next day it is time for classes in some of the best universities in England.
A recent study by Kingston University and reported in The Sunday Times said an increasing number of university students were turning to prostitution or sex-related work — all to fund their rising tuition fees.
The number of such students has risen by 50 per cent in the last six years. The annual tuition fees for undergraduate courses have, meanwhile, trebled — from £1,000 (Rs 85,000) in 1998 to £3,000 now.
In the survey, 130 students were asked whether they knew any friends involved with the sex industry. One in 10 said they knew students who had stripped, lap-danced or worked at massage parlours and escort agencies to support themselves. Just over six per cent said they knew students who worked as prostitutes. A student of international management confirmed to HT: "Since the fees have gone up, we have to work in bars and parlours. We get generous tips."
An escort in London, who called herself Sophie, said she had been in the industry since 1999 to support herself through a Master's degree, and now a doctorate in international politics. "Instead of working in McDonald's, or at shops for £8 an hour, sometimes it is easier to work in this industry, make money more quickly, pay the rent and have time for your reading," she said.
Ron Roberts, lead author of the study, said the authorities should acknowledge the problem. The pound of flesh need not be extracted.