Crowdfunding a degree: selfish or a stroke of genius?

by Charlotte Walmsley at Cardiff University,

Like most students, Emily-Rose Eastop finished university with lofty ambitions but was left disillusioned by a dwindling jobs market. Despite a degree in Human Sciences from Oxford University, Eastop found that she was not as desirable a candidate as she had previously hoped.

Following four years of sporadic jobs, including a job in a City firm that went bust and working as a biology tutor, she decided to go back into education and was accepted into Wadham College, Oxford to do her dream masters in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology. However, when she was not allocated funding, Eastop had to get creative.

She decided to tug on the heart (and purse) strings of the online community by raising awareness of her financial struggle through crowdfunding. In exchange for much needed financial support, she promises to write a blog during her masters to give donors a glimpse into her studies and allow them access to “easily digestable” summaries of her essays and research.

Thus far, Emily-Rose’s page has attracted both widespread media coverage and a hefty sum of nearly £20,000 from over 400 donors. Her supporters range from fellow cognitive scientists to conductors to supporters pledging a pound for access to her donors only blog.

However, what Emily-Rose did not foresee was the backlash in the wake of her success. Following media interest in her story, she has faced a barrage of criticism and has been branded a “posh brat.”

Insults have ranged from being deemed “lazy”, due to people’s incredulity that she could not raise the money herself (her fees alone are £11, 250, without even taking into account living expenses or accommodation) to, at its worst, misogynistic taunts claiming that she is a “pretty girl who does not understand why she has to pay her own way and who has probably never had to pay for her drinks either.”

It is hard to understand such vitriol directed at a young person, charged with the crime of wanting to enter the world of academia without falling further into the stranglehold of student debt. Much anger directed at Eastop seems to be thinly veiled jealousy that commenters had not been able to study a masters or had needed to take out bank loans, but as Eastop herself argues: “since when was jealousy and bitterness something to boast about?” Surely we should applaud her ingenuity and celebrate the fact that somebody was able to circumvent the ever-increasing barriers to further education?

As a student about to embark on a masters, I cannot deny the intimidating financial obstacles: funding is fiercely competitive, there are no student loans available and bank loans are limited and often accompanied by high interest rates. It is lamentable that the choice as to whether students continue their studies seems to be grounded more in finances than individual merit.

Eastop’s fundraising efforts and calls for collaboration to help students carry the heavy burden of debt not only sheds light on her struggle, but the struggle of the majority of postgraduate students having difficulties affording their education. Why is this a bad thing? What seems more pressing, rather than shaming an enterprising and determined student, is the question of why the cost of postgraduate study is so astronomical in the first place. Why are we critiquing Emily-Rose Eastop, rather than the system that leads to these desperate measures?

Visit Emily-Rose’s crowdfunding page here.


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