Last month the mainstream press reported on Romanian born student Alina Percea who "auctioned" her virginity on a website so that she could "afford to pay for her degree".
The 18 year old woman, who lives in Germany, had the intention of applying for a degree in computing and had "hoped to be able to afford to move out of her parents' home" but was still lacking funds.
Despite there being no way of determining virginity medically, Percea underwent physical examination by a gynaecologist who was willing to sign a certificate attesting to her virginity; a second doctor was later called upon to confirm it. The online auction was won by an unnamed Italian businessman, who paid £8,800 in order to have sex with Percea - who had been hoping to raise £50,000.
Percea was explicit about why she had turned to selling her virginity - without a large financial sum, affording her education would have been "impossible". That in pursuit of a degree a young woman has turned to selling her first sexual experience shows how financial means determines who has access to university.
And that Percea was able to sell her "virginity" at all is a symptom of a society in which women's sexuality is an asset that depreciates in value.
Percea's intention to finance her degree with the proceeds of the auction has been used by the press to excuse the prurience with which the story has been reported. Underlying the reporting is a consensus that selling sex to finance education is a superior transaction to selling sex for more immediate returns. So long as education remains a commodity, cashing in one's virginity for a degree can be seen as a sensible investment.
In a culture that treats female sexuality as a potential product, a woman's body can easily become her own capital. In this system both sexuality and education are just tokens that can be exchanged at will for money, status or personal advancement.
If in 2010 the government introduces variable fees in England, the financial pressure put onto students wishing to attend "top institutions" will greatly increase. A vast economic division between students who can or can't afford Russell Group universities due to their financial background will create a tiered system based on socio-economics rather than fair access. This will not only lead to greater debt, but will mean the ramifications of the marketisation of education becoming further entrenched.
What other outcome of profit-driven education can there be apart from situations where students like Percea are forced into viewing themselves as commodities as well as consumers?