Soooo.oo despite the promises and the rhetoric, despite the pleadings and the hopes, tuition fees are going up and university’s are going to charge up to £9,000 a year for education. Students must borrow that money in the form of a loan that will now carry a higher rate of interest. Gone are the days when the accountants will say “use the student loan facility, it’s cheap money, ideal to borrow at that interest rate”. Not to be sanctimonious, but in 1979 (I think) I organised a march against the charging of tuition fees to foreign students, only two hundred people showed up, perhaps we could discuss the nature of their values, but setting aside xenophobia, I thought it was the thin end of the wedge and now? Well I told y….
The jury is out on the whether money is going to solve the problems the universities struggle with, and few, if any of the media pundits, have mentioned the fact that this is only tuition fees we are talking about, not rent, food, clothes or any of those other pesky costs that a student has to find money for while not earning. It may be that education is of great value: it may be that education improves earning capacity; it may be that having a world class education costs money. However, as the costs go up, the quality of that value becomes more imperative. Who is going to want to stay in debt for thirty years if the value of what they have paid for is not returned in quality of life and future? Education, after all, is not entirely in the purview of the universities, our society agrees that the measure of an educated individual is a degree, but maybe that degree can be achieved at home and online or, in the words Will (Matt Damon) in Good Will Hunting “You dropped a 150 grand on an education you coulda’ picked up for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library”.
Even so, setting aside the fact that the rise in fees is inevitable, the charges are set to rise in 2012. Spare a thought then, for all those students sitting their A2 exams this year. August 18th 2011 is results day, it is always a difficult day, this time though, it could be a costly day. Students applying through UCAS now for 2011 are getting offers from the universities of their choice, an A and two Bs, 3 Bs, 3As, whatever, these are the grades that students must get to go on to university, and if they fail, if they don’t get the grade? Then there is a choice: go through clearing, find something, anything that kind of matches what the student wanted to do and go to university; or take a rain check, submit for retakes, take a gap year, reapply to different universities and get the course they want. If nothing else, that demonstrates determination, consideration and maturity, all qualities that universities value. The problem is, if students do that this year it will cost them and/or their parents dear. Students this year will find that one point down on the exam paper, one little wobble on the day, or one rogue marker at the exam board, and that could cost them and their family, thousands and thousands of pounds, or may be it will cost them their education. A decision to delay entry on August 18th is not just a decision to stay home a year longer, take time to think, work and travel a bit, but a decision to pay much, much more for their education. No pressure!
I’m not sure I would want to be in UCAS clearing or university admissions on August 18th, 2011 as parents and students begin to realise the implications of falling short by however tiny a margin. All this year, many will struggle to do the best they can, but with increasingly tough demands from universities the days of equality and diversity in higher education for as many as possible and then some, is coming to a close. Those who slip in under the wire will look behind them to see their system being dismantled, and who knows if they will be able to afford to educate their own children at university.