The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

The cost of learning: Students turn to escorting, drug dealing and gambling to afford university

A recent survey has revealed the shocking proportion of students resorting to controversial methods to earn money in the current financial climate


A recent survey by a careers app for graduates has found that a significant number of university students have considered illicit ways of funding themselves.

Debut surveyed around 1,000 UK students about earning money through unconventional means, such as escorting, drug dealing and gambling. According to ‘The Real Cost of Uni’ survey, 17 per cent of students are fine with the idea of stripping for cash, with similar figures reported for escorting (14 per cent) and finding a sugar daddy (13 per cent).

These attitudes are reflected by a growing number of undergraduates who do actually undertake this work — in London, the ‘prostitution capital’ of the survey, as 16 per cent of students know a fellow student who has worked as an escort. ‘Amy’, a 19-year-old studying at Manchester, became an escort on her gap year to fund her studies. Over the course of the year, she made approximately £20,000. She describes her encounters as often being “grim” and “intimidating.” Even though she strongly disliked working as an escort, she says she doesn’t believe she “could have done anything more profitable with my gap year. Having all that money saved has put my mind at ease for a while.”

Additionally, one in ten undergraduates knows a fellow student who has either sold drugs or gambled to get by at university. According to an estimate by Debut, the UK’s university campuses are home to approximately 172,790 drug dealers. “I’m not too fussed about getting caught,” says ‘James,’ a first year student and drug dealer at a London university, “I just really need the cash.” He makes around £50 – 60 a week selling cannabis, MDMA and Xanax to other students, mainly “private school kids and international students, who have loads of money to spend — unlike the rest of us.”

Like ‘Amy,’ he can’t think of a better way to make money as a student. This was a common theme throughout the ‘Real Cost of Uni’ — students are four times more likely to consider getting a sugar daddy ahead of collecting for charity, and just 5 per cent of students know someone who is a blood donor. In response to these figures, ‘James’ said: “Who can blame them? What would you rather do, stand on the street handing out flyers for hours or sell a bit of weed to one of your friends? The government don’t feel bad about putting us in this position so we [student drug dealers/escorts/gamblers] shouldn’t feel bad about what we do.”

With tuition fees set to rise again next year, it is likely that even more students will face desperate choices over how to make ends meet. At the University of Manchester, the cheapest halls accommodation costs nearly the entirety of a standard student maintenance loan, meaning students or their parents are forced to find more money for other necessities. Currently, 397,416 students in the UK rely on hardship grants for money. “While it’s easy for the older generation to disparage the employment choices that students are making or considering, the climate is very different from when parents were their age,” says Charles Taylor, CEO of Debut, “Not only do students have to contend with annual fees of up to £9,000, but it’s increasingly difficult to find part-time employment that will pay the bills while leaving enough time to pursue their studies.”

“Debut’s research shows the urgent imperative to provide more opportunities for students to earn money while they study…forward-looking firms could be investigating how they can reach out to the brightest graduates and provide them with meaning and well-rewarded work as the first step towards securing them as the talent of tomorrow,” Taylor concluded.

Names have been changed to preserve anonymity. The University of Manchester has a Hardship Fund for those who are struggling financially, and students with any money worries should contact the Students’ Union Advice Centre at or 0161 275 2952.

  • JB

    “James’ said: “Who can blame them? What would you rather do, stand on the street handing out flyers for hours or sell a bit of weed to one of your friends?”.

    Who, me? I’d rather stand on the street and hand out flyers legally for money than risk getting arrested for drug dealing because frankly I’m not an imbecile. Making 50 quid a week dealing drugs is roughly the same amount as you would get doing a shift or two a week on minimum wage.

    Nobody forces them to become whores or drug dealers. There are plenty of jobs out there, some minimum wage but many are above that. If you need only 50 quid or so a week to supplement your studies, and you do that by dealing rather than actually doing legitimate work, then I have no sympathy. Many of us [students] are in the exact same position and somehow manage.

  • BJ

    As usual the inmates are running the madhouse. Since when did we start feeling sorry for your drug dealers and prostitutes because they have invent some tragic sob story. We all have a tragic sob story. Life is hard. In regard to those examples, small time drug dealers make the same ad hoc bar work. Young women have always made good money selling their body whether they are paying for University tuition or just new pair of shoes.