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Articles > October, 04, 2010

Too Poor to Learn?

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There are a variety of far-fetched rumours, that quite uncomfortably for some, may be true. These rumours are about the ongoing review of higher education funding, led by Lord Browne with one of the suggestions being that from 2013 there will be a £1,000 increase in tuition fees annually. This increase will continue until students are faced with a bill of around £7,000 a year to study a course, and more worryingly, around £14,000 a year to study a science degree. There are also rumours about eventual plans to remove the fees cap altogether to create a free market in higher education.

These rumours are troubling to hear for students that are currently on 5-7 year degrees, and also for those who are hoping to attend university at any time in the next three years. I believe that if these rumours are true, we may see a steady reversal from this year’s substantial over-subscriptions, to one of two possibilities; severe under-subscriptions, with only the rich applying for university courses, or we’ll see people opting to study courses based on cost rather than suitability. This can surely have very few positive outcomes! I for one, would not have taken on such a large debt to study for a degree and would have applied for ‘earn while you learn’ schemes that pay you to complete your degree, resulting in no debt and an income!

And speaking of debt, perhaps one of the most frightening of all of the rumours surrounding higher education, are the suggestions that the banks will assume the government’s role of paying universities in advance and recouping their money through the student loan repayments. With the Bank of England in control of interest rates, shouldn’t we be concerned that students may be facing a colossal increase in student loan repayment interest?

To add to the debate, with the potential rise in tuition fees, are universities being as attentive to their students as they should be? We hear more and more about universities wanting to be world-leading ‘research’ universities, but are they fulfilling their undergraduates’ needs by achieving and sustaining such a reputation? I would argue that the universities that are more ‘teaching’ orientated are producing happier students who feel more supported and fulfilled by their course. With the rise in tuition fees, and the possible reduction in the number of students, are we going to be faced with more ‘research’ universities than ever before? The Chancellor of Oxford University has said that ‘fees must rise if British education is to remain world-class’. Should we really be translating this as, we need more money to fund our research and having students pay more is the way to achieve this?

A point to consider in light of all of this is whether there are still benefits to be gained in attending university. Regardless of fees, some people feel that they have the right to attend university, just because their parents did. My mother is currently going through her Nursing degree (with the Open University) part-time, while my father never attended university, however I feel I have the same right to attend university as my peers who have parents who both attended. I feel that it ultimately comes to the drive, determination and the intelligence of the person who is applying and not their background as to whether they have a right!

On the contrary, I know a person who is incredibly bright and is on course for top marks in their A-Levels. His parents both attended university and gained first-class degrees, but as his father remarks, there are people without a degree who are earning the same as him. As a result their son is being encouraged not to attend university, but rather to enter into employment and avoid the wasted three years and the subsequent debt.

In closing, with regards to the tuition fee rise, we will have to see where the coalition government will take us, carefully remembering that the Liberal Democrats in their manifesto, declared that in six years there would be no tuition fees. Will they fold and go in the opposite direction? Only time, and the Tories will tell!

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  1. Abdullah

    Sorry to say that you are more than likely going to be tainkg out an additional loan or getting an additonal job. If you can get it I would take a small loan as opposed to a job because school takes up a lot of your free time. Was this answer helpful?

  2. Rebecca

    Wow! Loved reading your article and closing with the question of whether the Liberals will fold and follow in the direction of the Tories? Well, we all know the answer now!! It would seem that David Cameron would like to return to the days of workhouses for the poor and let the rich be very rich indeed.

  3. Tracey

    Its all well and good saying an individual should make an informed choice about wether or not they should go to university, but at the moment the only choice young people seem to have is stay in education or go on the dole. It is inevitable this rise in tuition fees will end in only the rich going to university!! which is a shame as there will be thousands of inteligent people from poor backgrounds wasting their talents doing manuel jobs or no Job at all!! I personally agree that there is plenty the government could cut that would be less of a tragedy for the u.k, Trident, the war in Afganistan, the royal family and their own salaries to name a few. as for a graduate tax that may be a little fairer than higher fees to start with, but dont forget that most graduates earn more anyway and higher earners already pay more tax. The way things are going I wouldnt be surprised if they introduced both!! I really dont think that increasing fees will provide more money for universities because less people will be going!! how can a university have world class status if it is empty!

  4. Bezzy

    I think overall the fees should be scrapped, and UK should become like Scotland – where you don’t have to pay for fees.

  5. Lorna Goode

    There are always other options to consider like apprenticeships or going straight into a job which is difficult in the current economical climate. It will also mean less degrees or skills. The increase in university fees will just make the students vote Labour at the next election.

  6. William Bodkin

    There are a few issues that should be considered when analysing this article. Monique Geddis mentionned that students reading a science degree would be subject to a fee of around £14,000 a year. The question that must be asked is this; is it not essential for this fee to be high in order to provide researchers with the capital that is absolutely essential in achieving scientific breakthroughs? Many students who read science orientated degrees may in the future use a university as a research centre. Therefore, the students would reap the rewards of their earlier ‘investment’. Obviously not all students studying science-based degrees will become involved in research but it is fundamental that this scientific research is,financially speaking, thoroughly supported. The second point that must be considered is whether or not it is suitable for an individual to attend university. This is building on what Monique Geddis mentionned above. When an individual finds him/herself involved in the question of whether or not they should attend university, common sense MUST prevail. Obviously there are some qualifications that require, or certainly advise, you to attend university such as law, medicine and science degrees. If an indivual was to consider a qualification that does not require university attendance such as accountancy and some nursing degrees then they should examine the current employment opportunities in that given profession and make an informed and educated decision as to whether or not they should attend university. Thus, the student would, in the words of Monique Geddis, ‘avoid the wasted three years and the subsequent debt’.

  7. Mark Zurbruegg

    The option I am currently most comfortable with and the one I currently hear is being advocated by my university, the university of Glasgow. Is not to break students before they start uni but rather have a graduate tax. I completely agree with this Idea, we did get a little more out of the welfare state than people who did not attend and started working right away. Also most graduates are steady income earners and I think a tax increase of 3-7% on graduates should be more than enough to cover the gaps. Obviously I have no financial data and the percentage is largely random guessing I have built on shakey ideas. However I think a graduate tax is the way to go or we will see a drastic drop in both the sciences and especially the arts degrees.

  8. Vicky

    Tuition fees were what lead many to vote Tories and that has lead us to this downfall as money continues to be cut. Univsersities were for those who could pay and as we are continuously made more poor, our future is one of three things: 1) Win the lottery and we’ll have the money to go, 2: Not go to university and add to the queue at job centre due to no jobs in the world or 3: slog it out and be in debt. I see that we, the public pay taxes so we have the right to go to university and now the government are raising taxes, tuition and god knows what else to “fix the economy,” and we have to trust them. We have the right to go to universities and the government shouldn’t raise tuition just to line their own pockets!

  9. Harvey Green

    There are a number of ways in which funding could be achieved to maintain higher education. I think after yesterdays spending review what you said about benefits and public transport is also untrue. The coalition are set to take 17 billion from the welfare state and I think the public transport budget is set to be slashed by like 15%. Although we could debate on the ideological source of these cuts the fact remains that there is higher taxes, tax evasion, trident, the war in Afganistan and the banking system, that, in my opinion need to be cut before education, welfare and public transport. The banking reforms are set to take another year (Which is another year of bonuses and another year paying the ICB (another quango) before the results are published, let alone acted upon). The whole system of change to university is horrific. Students will be left with a average debts of 40,000 plus to which once they are earning 21,000 they will be liable for interest and inflation which today calculates at 5.3% (2.2% + 3.1%) If you’re earning 21,000 and have a 40,000 debt with 5.3% interest, you do the maths. It’s absurd that universities should demand so much as 12,000. Their world class status has been intact for decades there is no threat to it now. Furthermore the move to levy fees above £6,000 (For a fee of £12,000 the university will retain 79% and 81% of a fee of £10,000 the rest going directly to the government) means that the government are effectively charging students an extra 3 THOUSAND POUNDS to go to university. And if your course is a ‘stem’ subject; mainly science, then you won’t even recieve any state funding, so you’re giving them money for nothing!

  10. Sing Kwan

    All your points are valid and well put forward. I guess the big question that you did not try to answer(and is the essence of the need to raise fees) is how to plug the gap in finances for higher education. There are a lot of socially beneficial agendas, and higher education is rightfully up there. But the same can be said about benefits, public transport and so forth. It would be great for the government to build endless trains to every town in the UK, free housing for low income residents, but in the end it has funded somehow. The question you should ask is are there any alternatives to raising fees? If fees aren’t raised, the lack of public funding means continuing to refuse higher education to eligible people. Lack of funding will also make the universities lose competitiveness with educational establishments overseas. The reality is, the funding issue has to be resolved, and MAYBE a market system is the solution.