All students have experienced the financial challenges that accompany the "privilege" of further education. Yes you're given a loan, but what about those extra incremental costs that slowly add up, like a bar tab you underestimated? Ink has quickly become the most expensive liquid on the planet - something you learn very quickly when you undertake an academic degree, which requires printing on a mass scale. Current university fees are at an unaffordable all-time-high of £9,000 a year. You'd think under that extortionate fee your copy needs would be covered, but you'd be mistaken. Ruslan Khazarchiev and his friends realised this problem whilst studying at CASS Business School and were outraged like the rest of us.
After running a study, Khazarchiev and his friends found that 98% of students wanted free printing. They thought there had to be a better way for cash-strapped learners to study economically, which is when they created the Aiwip app.
Through partnerships with university student unions, the Aiwip allows students to print anything for free, by including ads from their sponsors at the bottom of the page. When I first heard this I was skeptical, purely because the word "free" usually comes with some kind of hidden onslaught of T&C's which mean you'll get charged in 12 months time when you've happily forgotten you signed up. But after speaking to Ruslan I came to understand that his company was set up to genuinely help students, in what is arguably the most financially challenging era to attend higher education. I was struck by quite how passionate he was about a problem that most universities seem to ignore. In fact, I found it pretty commendable.
It may seem hard to comprehend quite how annoying printing costs are if it's been a while since you were living the student life, but believe me it's infuriating and frankly akin to day-light robbery. The evidence stands to reason: in a 2012 survey for York University Student Union, printing was ranked the second highest extra cost for students after text books. Even more shocking, according to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills students were found to spend on average £136 a year on printing "services".
The app is a seemingly simple idea: you can print any document using your mobile phone. The website displays the process as follows:
1. Download the app.
2. Upload your document from your laptop or phone.
3. Stand next to an Aiwip printer (map on the app).
4. Press print at the printer.
The app automatically sinks with your laptop, which means your printing is ready to go when you need it. Admittedly not having to use a portable device and therefore not lose my memory stick for the 100th time is an appealing thought, as is the fact that I don't have to pay to print out the endless pages on my required reading list.
I decided to quiz Ruslan on how much the app really has to offer and to my surprise, actually quite a lot. Single or double sided printing, black & white or colour. The latter was music to my ears - I am dyslexic, which meant university was a nightmare in many ways, but predominantly because I find black text incredibly difficult to read. As a consequence I spent an unruly amount of money on colour printing.
Like most free offerings, however, the app has its challenges. I mentioned to Rulsan the obvious potential difficulty; that your University may not accept work with adverts in the footer of the page. They are aware of this issue and seem to be working hard to encourage universities them to help students by accepting work from Aiwip. From the response they've received so far, it seems likely to become a permanent solution to this additional student cost. Most of the universities they've been in discussions with want to help students who are under financial strain.
But universities aren't the only ones that may need convincing. Naturally I questioned how Aiwip would gain the backing of companies who may not want to take part in such "old school" advertising. Quite easily it would seem. Sponsors involved see the prospect as a rare business opportunity to contribute to an easier student life and access a different market audience. Perhaps this comes with the pity felt for today's students by the generations that proceeded. I personally find it pretty refreshing to see a modern technological business incorporate traditional values and methods - something of a rarity in today's high-tech world. After all, there is something authentic about print that far exceeds those annoying pop-up ads.
From my experience as both an undergraduate and post-graduate student, I think I speak for the majority when I say I warmly welcome any company that wants to help reduce student costs. It's certainly true that living the life of a student can be a pretty laid-back lifestyle, often taken for granted until you start a 9-5 job and become a normal human being. But times have changed financially and the expectation of students to pay off a base rate of 27k to pay for our education is unrealistic beyond belief. That alone is shocking, but to then ask us to pay for printing off the work we've already funded is terrible.
Yet it would appear that little is being done to tackle this inherent problem within the educational system, so the introduction of Aiwip is an uplifting change. Created by the graduates, for the students, Aiwip is an inventive way to help the modern student, with a moral ethos at its heart. I only hope it's the start of many more to come.