May the Forces Be with You; EDUCATION NOTEBOOK

Article excerpt

Byline: FRED REDWOOD

MOST students starting university life have two main concerns - making ends meet and finding new friends.

So they should bypass the other stands at the freshers' fair - including The Hell Raiser Society and the rugby club - and seek out the representatives from the university Armed Forces training units: the Navy, Army and Royal Air Force all offer students a chance to get a taste of forces life during term-time and in the holidays.

'It's a brilliant way to meet people who aren't on your course or living in your hall of residence,' says Anthony Bowden, aged 27, a third-year heritage and museology student and a member of the Southampton University Royal Naval Unit (URNU).

'It means drill nights during the week and most weekends, and parts of the vacations at sea. At weekends we'll go along the south coast to Poole, Brighton or the Isle of Wight. Last summer, we went to Paris to coincide with the Queen's visit and then went on to the South of France.' There are 14 URNUs in Britain, but sometimes one unit will recruit from more than a single institution. Anthony, for example, is a student at Portsmouth University but attends the Southampton URNU, together with students from Southampton Institute.

Each unit has its own turbocharged training vessel and its own crew, with accommodation for 12 students.

There's no obligation to join up after college, and all the services, who pay roughly the same, make this part-time commitment financially worthwhile.

The Navy pays the standard naval rate for a midshipman, [pounds sterling]32 a day when the student is on weekend manoeuvres and taking part in two-week vacation exercises. Each student is also paid about [pounds sterling]7 an hour for drill nights.

'It can amount to a few thousand pounds a year, depending on your attendance. That's enough to stop the debt spiralling out of control,' says Anthony. …