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The price of education

Catherine May, our resident student writer, wonders if the fuss or the fees are worth it

Published on November 22nd 2010.

The price of education

University fees. We know they’re a modern day necessity, but with the ConDems planning to treble tuition fees in the next two years and students protesting on every campus, something evidently is not right.

‘If students are going to university because it’s ‘the done thing’ then maybe they shouldn’t be going at all. People should be starting degrees because they love the subject, or because it will help enhance their career prospects, not because they forced into it.’

The protests in London a fortnight ago saw coach loads of students from the Manchester universities venture south to share their views on the situation. Whilst the press chose to focus their attention on the violence, the messages on the placards remain the main issue in the minds of tens of thousands of students.

As I study at the University of Manchester, I am yet another student with worries about the proposed changes to higher education. Whilst the tuition fee increases are unlikely to affect me unless I opt to complete a second degree, I have a 16 year-old sister who will be very much affected.

Fortunately we’re in a position where she’ll still be able to afford to go to Uni, but it seems ridiculous that she’ll graduate two years after me, with treble the debts. Not everyone is in this position and she has friends who are genuinely considering the worst-case scenario that will put an end to their university dreams.

She went to the protest last week after representatives from two local universities came to speak to students. She’s now got an unauthorised absence on record, but she felt it was something she had to do. In a sea of placards proclaiming the likes of ‘Our parents can’t afford private education like yours did David’ and many displaying far cruder messages, she joined the march and said the atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive. There was a real togetherness among the masses who all shared similar views and a desire to make a difference.

My student union staged an occupation at our uni’s finance offices in the John Dalton building last Thursday, wanting to know what their plans were regarding future fees. It was a peaceful protest which generated national news coverage and raised awareness that the protest was not the end of student action against the plans. It was their way of showing that they weren’t going to back down without a fight.

Back home in Hertfordshire, my local Lib Dem candidate jumped ship to Labour last week. He’d previously done the rounds of the local secondary schools pre-election, declaring the Lib Dem’s pledge to stop any tuition fee rises. Since Clegg has joined Cameron on his mission to make the lives of students more difficult, plenty of Lib Dem supporters have questioned what they are fighting for. Lib Dems won the student vote in May and since then they’ve turned their backs on us so it’s hardly surprising that they’re now seeing supporters leaving the party.

Maybe I don’t even have the right to be moaning about the fees; I didn’t go to the protest or the occupation. I might be passive in my beliefs, but ultimately I’m still a student who believes the proposed fee increases are absurd.

I do believe that something should change about the current university culture though.

At the moment there is an unspoken expectation for A Level students around the country to further their education at university. Week after week, I was told about application closing dates and personal statements but when it came to those wanting a job, there was merely a one-off talk.

If students are going to university because it’s ‘the done thing’ then maybe they shouldn’t be going at all. People should be starting degrees because they love the subject, or because it will help enhance their career prospects, not because they forced into it.

University isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of other options (vocational courses, diplomas, apprenticeships, etc) that some individuals are far better suited to, yet sometimes less academic university degrees are offered to entice those individuals onto a campus.

I feel too many people are going to university and as graduate job prospects dwindle, I genuinely worry about what thousands of graduates are meant to do when left with huge debts and no jobs.

But I don’t understand how making education unaffordable for the majority will help to curb this. Our European neighbours all offer degrees to natives at much lower costs than our current fees and whilst there may well be a lack of money in the education system, should it really be our future students having to foot the bill?

I am scared for students of the future, but I’m scared for myself too. I hope to enter a crowded, competitive job market. Just yesterday I was reading yet another article telling aspiring journalists about the non-existent job prospects and the lack of money in the industry.

Sometimes I question whether a degree is worth all the money, effort and fuss at all.

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14 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

EARL OF DIDSBURYNovember 22nd 2010.

Why is it students want their education paid for by me and other taxpayers many of them poor. If they want to go to university they should pay and with the new policy they can obtain a loan for 9000 pound or what ever amount they need and then can pay it back at a low rate of intrest when they get a decent job , problem solved , higher education isn't a right , many students are'nt really going for the education , just the life that comes with it , or to get away from their parents or to avoid work hence high drop out rates , many choose courses that just wont deliver the job they want because there are'nt the numbers of jobs out there.So any students thinking of getting a free ride , get real , the countrys bankrupt so start paying for your own education.

M30November 22nd 2010.

"Back home in Hertfordshire..."

That speaks volumes.
Thankfully I was one of the last intake of students to qualify for a grant as well as a loan, as I would never have been able to afford it otherwise, because unfortunately I don't have a rich Mummy and Daddy in Gerrards Cross.

When one comes across students in Manchester (or Sheffield or Leeds for that matter) most of them seem to have braying Home Counties accents, and are surrounded with Selfridges bags when they sip cocktails in Common. Therefore, fairly low down on my list of people who I think who deserve a few quid.

It is becoming more and more difficult for students from low-income backgrounds to study at University, and anything which can be done to encourage more students from low-income bacgrounds going to Uni can only be a good thing.

DibigoNovember 22nd 2010.

M30... brilliant rant.

DanibeeNovember 22nd 2010.

Personally I don't think it was a good rant. I'm actually studying at the University of Manchester and I'm from Bedfordshire. Yes ANOTHER home county, and I find your post (M30) very stereotypical. Now I know there maybe some people from the Home Counties whose education is being supported by their parents but isn't that the case throughout the UK? I don't think it's reserved to the south east! I mean, personally, I'm from a low income family and am receiving the maximum grant from the government. So yes I may have an accent but no I don't shop in Selfridges.

In addition, I think if you'd carried on reading the article and not seen red at the mention of Hertfordshire that you would've found that the author is actually against the rise in fees and not bragging about how "Mummy and Daddy" were going to help her and her sister through university.

Jonathan Schofield - editorNovember 22nd 2010.

As a Rochdalian living in Manchester since the late eighties what I like about the city is its broad-minded nature. Then I get reminded how narrow-minded some up here are. I propose a swap, lots more broad-minded southerners moving up here and the chip on the shoulder, always whinging about the south narrow-minded fools born up here shipped down there. That'd suit me.

DibigoNovember 22nd 2010.

Rochdalian. ha ha. Wow that's a new one on me. Yonah or Woolyback I know them as. Them and Bury, Oldham, Bolton and anywhere else they live in round houses to keep t'devil from't corner of room.

Jonathan Schofield - editorNovember 22nd 2010.

Ah yes Dibigo, point proven.

DibigoNovember 22nd 2010.

Well, not really Jonathan but glad I could be of service.

M30November 22nd 2010.

If only the argument was so simple, Jonathan. Having studied in Manchester myself, I've seen the demographic of its students change completely over the past decade or so, and not for the better.

Are you suggesting that every middle-class student from the South East who studies in Manchester is broad-minded, tolerant and an asset to the city? If so, we'll have to disagree.

I have experienced the Home Counties student contingent in huge numbers in and around Manchester, and have found many of them extremely narrow-minded, blinkered and out of touch, with many holding so disparaging views of Manchester, that I always have to ask "Why did you move here in the first place?"

I resent being labelled a narrow minded Northerner when the only point I've made is that it's so much easier to study these days when you have wealthy parents, as opposed to being from a council estate in Doncaster.

If thinking this is unfair makes me narrow-minded then so be it.

Smyth HarperNovember 22nd 2010.

M30 and Jonathan - put your claws away girls. It's undeniably true that there are a fair few hooray henry-type students who come up here, p*** on our streets for three years, and then go back orf down south with their vulgar view of this great city intact. On the other hand, it's fair to say there's a quite a few students who come here, fall in love with the city, grow up and stay.


Simon Binns - News EditorNovember 22nd 2010.

I'd say so Smitty. I am one. Not so sure I've entirely grown up though.

For the record, Catherine is a rare kind of student - she doesn't drink. So hopefully she won't be urinating on the streets too often.

AnonymousNovember 22nd 2010.

A university education has never been cheap, but if only a small proportion of our 18yr olds go, as in the pre-1980ish days, then the nation can afford to subsidise them to a great degree. That's why students in those days got loans and their fees were paid in full from the public purse.

Recently nearly 80% of children from the better off socio-economic groups have been going on to higher education. It is becoming the 'done thing' for these people to send nearly all their children on to the massively expanded higher education system, almost regardless of their academic ability. As someone with connections with the education industry it's tiresome to hear these people telling you just how intelligent, creative and interesting ALL their children are.

If the middle class wants the university system to be used as a kind of finishing school for nearly all their kids then that's OK as long as they pay for it.

Why should the taxpayers, including many poor people, pay to send a not too bright child of middle class parents to study some dubious course at some dubious university? Where is the payback for this kind of investment?

Simone13024November 23rd 2010.

Let's be honest, University is no longer the reserve of the intelligent. That's not to say that no one who goes is intelligent before they all start. However, why should others pay for what has basically become a lifestyle choice?

Smyth HarperNovember 23rd 2010.

Simon were you one of the ones that spent three years p***ing on the street and, more importantly, have you stopped?

A student who doesn't drink? She must be loaded! Also, good article Catherine. Demonstrates that you guys aren't all the stereotype suggested by some.

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