Thursday 9 December 2010

Student Tuition Fees: The Debate Nobody's talking about.

I've just been watching the 10:00 news on the BBC - more violent scenes of students protesting in Central London over the proposed rise in tuition fees.

Prince Charles and Camilla have even been caught up in the trouble, with demonstrators attacking the Royal couple’s car as they tried to make their way to the theatre.

Hardly a great move by the protesters. That’s what’s going to dominate the news headlines and overshadow all those who took part in peaceful demonstrations.

I’ve been wondering when I should write something on tuition fees. I think this is as good a time as any seeing as the Coalition government won the vote in parliament today to raise fees.

When it comes to tuition fees, I keep thinking to myself that nobody’s talking about the issue that’s constantly on my mind, which is this:

How many graduates do we really need? And what is the purpose of a university education?

What's obvious is the idea of a free university education is over for students in this country. Anyone wanting to go to university will need to make some contribution.

The key point is the amount that universities will be allowed to charge students. Fees will potentially treble from the current figure of just over £3000 to an upper limit of 9,000.

It’s likely that the most prestigious universities, those within the Russell Group are likely to charge some of the highest fees, which they will argue are needed in order to compete with the best universities around the world.

That’s a strong argument, and it’s important that universities are funded properly in order to compete. The downside is that we might be creating a three-tier university system.

I can see some people being put off from applying to the best universities because of the high fees, and will choose other courses at less popular less prestigious insititutions.

If I was a student, or a young person looking at going to university in the next few years, the thought of graduating with between £30 – 40,000 worth of debt would scare the life out of me.

I understand the argument that this could put off people from poor and working class backgrounds, but not all universities will charge the maximum fees of 9,000, and students won’t need to start paying back the fees until they start earning over £21,000.

This sounds reasonable, but in reality most graduates are going to spend most of their careers paying off their debts.

One thing I find annoying is the assumption that most graduates will eventually find jobs where they earn salaries way above the national average, and therefore will be in a position to comfortably pay off their debts.

Nobody ever seems to focus on those students who might study arts and humanities degrees like English, graduate from a mid ranking university with debts of £30,000 plus; before spending their working career never earning much more than the national average.

There are loads of graduates earning between £25,000 to £40,000 a year which are good salaries but not exceptional.

Will these people ever pay off all their debts? I just think to myself, whether having a degree in such circumstances is really worth it?

This is why I don’t understand why more people aren’t debating the purpose of university and asking how many graduates the country really needs.

It seems this government like the previous one insists the country needs a large graduate workforce to compete with other nations in the global economy.

Personally I think we have too many people going to university, and many people have grown up being told they need a degree in order to have any sort of successful career.

There’s too much emphasis on having a degree in its own right, when the job market is really about relevant skills and experiences and constantly looking to maintain and develop those skills. It’s more important for the country to have a highly trained, skilled workforce.

University degrees are too often seen as the be all and end all. Not surprisingly people are upset when they’re told they need a degree to be successful in life, yet see the tuition fees increase so much, they no longer think they can afford to go.

People from poor, working class, and even middle income families will need to think long and hard about whether going to university is really what's right for them.

Of course people from poorer backgrounds should be encouraged and helped to go to university, particularly the more elite ones, but people will need to really think about what they want from a university education.

University can't be just an excuse anymore for people to 'mess about' for a three years before they enter the real world.

Deciding to go to university will now become a serious life choice that will affect people for the rest of their lives. This is what needs to be discussed more, along with questioning the value of degrees rather than just focussing on the student demonstrations and tuition fees.

1 comment:

  1. You have raised some interesting points.
    I can’t say how angry I am about this policy from the Coalition. Not only will this reduce the number of students going to university, for those that do go, what will the debt figures be once they graduate? The fact that the Government are increasing the threshold of when a graduate starts paying it back is irrelevant when the interest repayments from the student loan company will be increased. So in theory, many will be paying back their loans for the rest of their life.

    I do agree that over the years the number of students going to university has increased, but why restrict the development of those that are ambitious? The Government need to acknowledge that times are changing, and with more courses on offer at university, the number will only get higher with time.

    What I find insulting is when I read comments from Michael Gove. He has the audacity to say that due to the Labour Government overspending, we (the Coalition) have no choice but to increase fees. I’m not disputing this argument; but if we are to compete with the best universities around the world, why reduce the budget for education?! It just doesn’t add up.

    I disagree with you regarding the number of people going to university is too high. To some extent, our generation have been brought up to believe, that a degree is the be all and end all. But is this really a bad thing? I can only talk from my experience growing up, but for many that grew up in my area; going to university was an opportunity “to get out of the circle”.

    We always take political parties policies with a “pinch of salt”. But the amount of broken promises mounting up from the Coalition is outrageous. From frontline cuts, tuition fees, tax credits, the NHS and cutting the Education Maintenance Allowances. This Government will be hitting the many in the country, and not the few. For these reasons I’m fearful under this government.