Beyond the neon runes


By any means necessary

What price would you put on your education? On your child’s education? Is it worth more than your dignity, your soul? Could you endure routine humiliation, a loss of virtue and respect, just to get that third-level qualification? Would it not just be easier to drop out?

These are the kind of questions that would have run through the minds of the more than 500 students from the University of Limerick who signed up to adult dating website, Seeking Arrangement. The kind of questions they considered, answered and then justified, before submitting their details to its database to be perused by prospective clients.

You may have heard of this site, it’s the one where old guys, and sometimes gals, but mostly guys, actively pursue hard-up students, promising to help them through college, to clear their debts, pay their fees, in exchange for ‘companionship’.

Using the colloquial term ‘Sugar Daddies’ the site models itself as a space for high-powered businessmen and professionals, those who simply haven’t got time to waste on the dating scene, to converse with attractive young women, ‘Sugar Babies’, in the hope that they may come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

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The nature of these arrangements aren’t openly discussed on the website’s pages. However, given that the men involved have just one thing to offer; cash, and the women have but one commodity of their own; their bodies, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how things work.

If you don’t believe me, don’t believe that such a seedy enterprise could operate so openly, so brazenly, have a read of some of the jargon from the Seeking Arrangement site:

“If you’re a sugar daddy there are 12 or more sugar babies vying for your attention.” What man wouldn’t enjoy those odds?

And for the women: “Our website is 100% free for sugar babies.” Well, that makes sense, they are skint after all. It follows up by saying, “if you want your tuition paid, help with your career, financial help with your rent or cosmetic surgery, our website will help you search, match and find it.” What could possibly go wrong?

But the issue here isn’t that Irish women are signing up to this website, not really; some may have only done so out of curiosity, others may have backed out upon realising just what these arrangements entailed. What we really need to ask ourselves is why more than ten thousand Irish students, at least 500 of them here in Limerick, felt the need to check out this site?

In 1996 tuition fees at third-level were abolished in this country, thus opening the doors of Universities and Colleges to those who had previously only dreamed of hour-long lectures on Marxism and The Enlightenment. Suddenly you didn’t have to come from a well-to-do family to further your education. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from. If you had the gumption, the determination and the smarts you could compete on an even-playing field.

Fast-forward twenty years; we now have one of the most educated workforces in the world, with more than half of those in employment boasting a third-level qualification of some sort. And that doesn’t take into account all those who have left our shores, degrees in their back pockets, to seek employment elsewhere, nor those who, despite graduating with honours aplenty, find themselves unable to attain a job in their field of expertise.

Oh yes, we’re a clever bunch, full of notions and delusions of grandeur. And we’re getting even cleverer. In 2007 just over 135,000 Irish people proudly popped their old pencil-cases in the bin and headed off to big boy’s school. Last year that figure had risen to 180,000. Socio-economic factors have played their part, those previously excluded have been joined by mass ranks of mature students (myself included), and greater competition for jobs has led to an increase in post-grads.

As a result our third-level education system has become unsustainable, with even our biggest, most venerable institutions, unable to cope with the sudden spike in students. New buildings are required, updated facilities, modernised campuses, extra accommodation; registration fees, set at €3,000, simply don’t cover the costs. Those fees will rise this year, Education Minister, Richard Bruton has already intimated as much.

Which leads us back to our original scenario; that of the hard-up student, struggling to make ends meet, seeking a way of funding their education and, in essence, their future. You might argue that €3,000 isn’t all that much, that any self-respecting parent could save that amount for their beloved if they were really serious about providing for them. And maybe you’d be right. But, as previously discussed, Irish students now come from all manner of backgrounds, it’s not simply a case of pater or mater dipping into their deep pockets anymore.

And it’s not just fees: How does a student pay for their accommodation? Particularly in this current environment? What about their day-to-day living, their food and travel, their books, course materials? Yes, a college grant may cover some of it, but clearly, given the evidence available, not enough.

So instead of focusing solely on their studies or, in some cases, getting ossified at the campus bar every night, they are forced to find ways of supplementing their income. For the majority this will mean tedious, unskilled jobs with meagre pay and unsociable hours. But for some, those who baulk at the idea of minimum wage for maximum effort, there are other, more lucrative options.

One of those options is to advertise their wares on a site full of dirty old men, because let’s not kid ourselves here, these are men who wish to have sex with young, desperate women, and hope that one of those men, the richer the better, takes an interest. And then hope that his interest is so strong, so sincere, that he is willing to cover the fees, the rent, that neither she nor her parents can quite meet.

What she may have to do with this dirty old man in order to acquire this money, in order to fund her education, is, even for someone as worldly-wise as myself, really not worth considering.


Not that kind of girl

One woman who certainly cannot be bought, at any price, is Vogue Williams. The actor/presenter/reality TV star/blogger/Internet personality/model/wife to the stars, has exclusively revealed that she turned down an offer of €20,000 to go on a date with a fan.

Vogue, whose previous exploits include appearing on Dancing with the Stars and being married to Bryan McFadden, told the Irish Sun that the lusty admirer made his indecent proposal via Instagram. “He was a young guy and looked well off. He actually had €20,000 to go out on a date. It was tempting but absolutely not — no, I couldn’t do it,” said the former guest panellist on Loose Women.

A couple of things to consider here. Firstly, if I were famous, female and pleasing on the eye, I would be downright offended by such a paltry offer. I mean, Ms Williams isn’t really my cup of tea but she’s off the telly and has probably, at some point in her career, appeared in both FHM and Loaded. Surely, with that kind of CV, she’s worth more than 20k? Fifty should be the bare minimum.

Secondly, just whatever happened to good old-fashioned male chivalry? No such thing as wining and dining anymore, holding open doors and pulling out chairs. Now it’s just “here, take my money, the bedroom’s that way”.

The way things are going, us lowly commoners will be left to one side, forced to watch on, sad-faced and grubby, while salivating capitalists barter over our very best womenfolk. Oh for shame.