Name: Sara Kenny
Occupation: Part-time student and digital content campaign manager
I realised part way through my zoology degree that I didn’t see a long-term career in it. I wasn’t as passionate about zoology as some fellow students, who ate, breathed and slept it. After university I took a gap year and continued to live in Liverpool as I loved it. I was working at Tesco and taking on as much overtime as possible to pay my rent. I had zero work-life balance and no time to research what master’s I wanted to study. I ended up moving back home to Derry to save money and got a transfer to the local Tesco.
It was a chance encounter with an inspiring Amnesty International fundraiser who, despite knowing that I couldn’t afford to donate, talked passionately about the great work they do. That made me want to work in human rights.
I found volunteer work with a charity called Children In Crossfire, helping with everything from making volunteer packs to marshalling at fun runs. After seven months they hired me as a digital content campaign manager.
It made me realise I wanted to study a master’s in the same field, so I applied for a part-time human rights and political science master’s in Manchester.
Fortunately, the charity lets me work remotely and now I work 21 hours a week, with a salary of £8,700, while studying in Manchester. I absolutely adore the job. Everyone on my master’s was shocked that I already had a job working for a charity – as that’s what everyone dreams of – and that I had a degree in zoology. I feel very lucky.
What isn’t so fortunate are the student fees and loans. As a student from Northern Ireland, I receive a postgraduate loan of £5,500 over two years, but my tuition fees amount to £9,500. While the loans available to students from Scotland, England and Wales are all above £10,000, allowing them to pay for their course upfront and have money left over, Northern Irish students face surviving on at least £4,000 less if they wish to study in mainland UK.
Bank loans are available, but with many students having no credit history, these are often rejected. I saved a lot on my year off but nowhere near enough to cover fees. My dad has used some of his retirement savings to cover them, for which I’m very grateful. When I finish my master’s I’ll be £35,000 in debt. It’s incredibly disheartening.
I live in a beautiful house with five girls I met on SpareRoom. My rent is £367 a month which is quite fair as it’s central Manchester. I often go home to Derry. I took the ferry once and it was so bumpy that I now fly. It costs about £40 return.
In Manchester, I walk everywhere. The only time I might grab a taxi is on a night out but that’s quite rare; usually we’ll get the night bus for £2.50. It can be a good craic with everyone after a night out.
I try to eat quite healthily. I often eat vegetarian food as meat is expensive. I spend £20 to £30 a week on groceries. When it comes to groceries and clothes, I buy well. For example, I have a really nice coat from Zara that cost £100 but I’ve had it for five years and it’s still going strong. I’ll also use my NUS card and visit UNiDAYS for discounts.
I might go out once a month for a night with friends but I don’t have the time to socialise like I did when I was an undergraduate. A few times a month I’ll go to the cinema or watch a play but find a cheap ticket.
I rarely take holidays as I don’t have any spare money. Last summer my parents took me to Nice to celebrate my dad’s retirement. It was the first time I’d been away for years.
I’m looking forward to having financial stability. I’m quite anxious about money and worry that one day it will dry up. When I get a full-time job and can save, I’ll feel a lot better. I don’t have a pension fund or savings for a property. I’d love to own a house but I want to live in the here and now and enjoy the nice life working and studying in a field I’m passionate about.
As told to Suzanne Bearne