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(Eric Hood/iStockphoto)
(Eric Hood/iStockphoto)

Should schools dictate how students spend scholarships? Add to ...

Former Ontario post-secondary students of a certain age may recall the not-so-secret name for the province’s student loan program: the Ontario Stereo Assistance plan (a play on its proper name that swaps out the word “student”). Or how so many of those “assisted students” appeared to head off on some awfully nice holidays once spring break arrived. Which is not to say that students loans weren’t put to good use covering the cost of overpriced textbooks and rent. Just that they also bought a fair share of beer.

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Now, with student debt piling up, some British universities have decided to put a stop to their unwitting contributions to the pub-run fund, and designate what students can buy with their bursary money.

A Guardian story quotes journalism student Tom Vonier, whose £500 ($787) bursary could only be spent at certain university shops. He used it to by a transit pass, book and a MacBook.

“It's quite helpful having it like this because you can't just spend it on holidays,” Mr. Vonier told the Guardian. The bursary-card scheme – that can only be used for designated purchases – is also being adopted by several other universities to offset the cost of higher tuition fees, and a similar program already exists in Africa. With the “entitlement,” universities can also track how much a student is spending on books, the newspaper reports, with the goal of monitoring activity for signs of academic trouble.

Getting past the Big Brother aspect, how far should the state go in determining how a helpful handout is managed? Some students have raised questions about the scheme, and that it sends the idea that students who need financial support aren’t able to manage their own funds.

“Students have life to manage,” student union leader Liam Burns told the Guardian. “We don't make any other section of society jump through such hoops for public money.” (He also points out that restricting purchases to the university bookstores creates a monopoly, and prevents a students from being able to shop for a better deal.)

In the end, while Mr. Vonier is happy for his bursary, he would have still preferred cash. “Living in London is really expensive,” he says. A textbook, he can borrow in a pinch. His landlord isn’t so accommodating.

Should bursaries and loans come with more restrictions on how they are spent? Care to fess up to a frivolous item you bought with your student loan money?

Follow on Twitter: @ErinAnderssen

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