“Even with 700 euros I struggle, and yet I have the impression of being a upper-class among the precarious.» In the XVIIIe arrondissement of Paris, Arthur*, 19, has been waiting for an hour in the line at Restos du Coeur. Like every week, he comes to collect a packed lunch. Enough to “save twenty to thirty eurosin purchasing power, according to the double-degree student in history and Arabic at the Sorbonne. “It especially helps me to have products that are very expensive in stores, such as eggs“, he confides, shopping bag in hand.
Echelon 7 at Crous, the highest level, the native Breton has had to tighten his belt since his arrival in Paris in August 2020. In addition to his scholarship of 573 euros per month, he receives a supplement from his grandmother. and her best friend’s mother. Insufficient, however, to cover essential expenses. “I cannot advance health costs. Now I have to have my wisdom teeth pulled, but I don’t do it.”says the young man.
In addition to his rent of 403 euros (without housing aid) and food expenses, his monthly budget is quickly spent: twenty euros of books for the university, eighteen euros for the Navigo pass, ten euros for subscriptions to the media and to a music platform… So much so that his life boils down to counting: “Sometimes I go for a drink and I quantify it in products that I could buy during my races. For example, I say to myself “That’s one less bottle of soy milk”.» For Arthur, food aid distributions are always a better option than one-euro meals from Crous. “This thing is a chimera, the set is so sparse that I have always paid extra.»
A desert in the fridge
At the Clignancourt university restaurant, in the 18th centurye arrondissement of Paris, we make the opposite observation. Here, with one euro, you can eat a mixed salad, carbonara pasta and yogurt. Implemented last January for all students, the measure has only been intended for scholarship holders since September 2021.
They were 275,000 throughout France to benefit from it at the start of the school year, according to the National Center for University and School Works. “It helps me a lot. It’s five to ten times cheaper than in a bakery“, comments Saïd Hitana, 18, who appreciates his full plate. Surprised that this is not the case for other students, he explains that he “always ate at [sa] hunger”. “I think it depends on the Crous: in that of Port-Royal [Ve arrondissement de Paris, ndlr]there are fewer choices”nuances his classmate in medical school.
Far from the university canteens, the fridges remain empty. In that of Lucie*, a 23-year-old film student, food is fighting a duel. A few eggs, potatoes, a half-eaten tray of ravioli, a bottle of expired milk. “I haven’t done any real errands in almost two months», admits the young woman, who sometimes goes without dinner. To save time, but alsoby lazy», she makes her purchases on her smartphone, without moving from her Crous accommodation of 16 square meters located in the Ve capital district.
Scholarships not always suitable
Lucie is delighted to have a pedestrian drive nearby, thus saving her from paying “super expensivein local convenience stores. Online shopping also allows him to sort products according to increasing price. An almost unconscious reflex for the student: “It’s not a control for me, it’s just a habit of life. I’ve always been very thrifty.Lucie comes from a working class family in Vendée. She was raised alongside her four siblings by a single mother. Today a scholarship holder at level 5, she is often obliged to “harass” the CROUS to request emergency support.
Other young people in financial difficulty also resort to exceptional solutions. At the Secours populaire, food aid sessions reserved for students are organized twice a week. Many foreign students parade through the premises, but also scholarship holders. “It’s mainly those who drop down the ladder suddenly, or whose scholarship is taken away after five years of study”observes Clara Touron, volunteer in civic service in the association.
She points out that the amounts of the scholarships are calculated according to the tax income of the parents going back to two years before the current period of study of the student. This can lead to a situation unsuited to the needs of the scholarship holder.
The health crisis has reinforced these particular cases. “The sudden loss of income from work that many students have suffered in recent months has not […] not compensated by traditional financial support systems such as study grants”indicates a study conducted by the Linkee association in 2021.
No improvement in sight
Another problem: rising energy and food prices. Faced with this situation, the government announced last October an inflation allowance of 100 euros, paid in particular to scholarship holders. If it does not solve student precariousness, it gives a boost to purchasing power, according to Xavier Timbeau, principal director of the French Observatory of Economic Conditions. “This is a very significant element, compared to their average monthly income which is well below the minimum wage”, he analyzes. According to the Crous, scholarships can amount to up to 572 euros per month.
However, several difficulties remain. First, the rise in inflation is not correlated with the rise in income for students. It is those of their parents who increase, which “does not necessarily lead to an increase in intra-family transfers“says the economist. All the more so for young people whose scholarship is supposed to compensate for low financial support from the family. Furthermore, students are not affected by tax cuts or changes in social benefits. “If we want to act on the purchasing power of students, either we increase the value of scholarships, or we reduce registration fees”explains Xavier Timbeau.
The Crous has precisely increased its monthly aid by 1% at the start of the academic year. Without satisfying the main concerned. “I think I get a few cents more”, Arthur reacts bitterly. And the inflation bonus? “It’s like a towel over water, it’ll just blot up a bit, but it’ll still stay wet. It will always be shit.”
*The names have been changed.