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!