Labeeda Ahmed

Naked Politics Blogger

You’ve just finished university; all the late-night studying and smart budgeting in your weekly shop. It’s safe to say the stress of university seems to be behind you. Or is it?

Fresh out the doors of your academic home for at least three years, you are motivated to put the knowledge and skills you’ve gained to use. But amidst your hopes and ambitions is that nagging thought of your degree expenses. Unfortunately, as much as we’d like, this thought doesn’t leave so easily. Unlike your newly-finished university journey, the road to repaying the tuition fee loan has just begun.

If you are in this position, fear not, because you are not alone. On a yearly basis, the government hands out a staggering £16 billion to approximately one million budding adolescents, who hope to use this degree to make their mark on the world.

Image from The Telegraph

Surprisingly, even less than we expected of the £9,250 actually contributes towards the fee for universities; The Guardian claims that only 40-45% of the hefty amount goes towards universities, the remainder going to libraries and information technology. Authors of the Higher Education Policy Institute even go as far as saying that “it is easier” to find out “where the money goes when buying an iPhone than it is for a degree.” However, The Russell Group have calculated this differently; they explained that £1,100 contributes to “widening access”, whereas the remaining £8,100 counts towards the crucial “teaching and university services. So, it’s no surprise that this uncertainty has led to 74% of students wishing to know of the exact whereabouts of their fees. According to BBC, along with students’ complaints about never-ending debt are the “financial pressures” of the universities themselves.

There have been talks of lowering the 9K mark to something along the lines of £6,000; Jeremy Corbyn seemed to be at the forefront of this initiative in 2017, as he pledged to abolish tuition fees for “EU students in the UK.” As great as this sounds, all may still not be well. Whilst some are questioning the government for making students pay more than is required for what they receive, Martina Milburn believes otherwise. She looks at it from a different angle: a cut in fees could reduce the chances of young people from “poorer backgrounds” attending university. She continues to state that this “will certainly help a certain sector”, but is doubtful that it will help the “right young people.”

Martina Milburn, the new chair of the government’s Social Mobility
(image from The Guardian)

Alternatively, Milburn proposes reintroducing maintenance grants as they are more likely to “widen participation.” There’s a danger that teaching standards and services provided to students may be affected negatively; cutting corners on this figure doesn’t sound so desirable when you think of all of the things that could go wrong. Things have to be put into perspective: would you rather pay £3,000 less, but risk lowering the standard of your lectures and other services, or remain at this benchmark (though in more debt) and receive a higher standard of education?

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “a problem shared is a problem halved” which sums up pretty well the following proposal. It involves businesses helping to repay the loan of former students they employ, also known as “graduate levy.” Sean Coughlan is of the view that “sharing the cost between student, taxpayer and business might seem like a way for a softer landing.”

University is a major step in life, and those who have completed it are aware of the struggles, which were totally worth it in the end. It is such a privilege to be given the opportunity to further your knowledge, and embark on this academic journey to pursue your passion, or begin to discover it.

image from Goldsmiths University

The facilities and standard of teaching in UK universities are of an exceptional standard, but there is always room for improvement. Perhaps, the case for and against tuition fees could be reviewed by Parliament; maybe not a total abolition as that may not be practical, but instead, a reduction to ease the burden of students. Having said that, other countries in Europe such Germany, France and Norway have adopted a largely tuition-free policy for university and so, a glimmer of hope for our students appears. Who knows, maybe recommendations such as the substantial reduction of fees or reintroduction of maintenance grants will lead to an influx of students enrolling into university.

As Nelson Mandela famously said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Here’s hoping that we are among those, who use their valuable knowledge and skills, to create a positive change for the benefit of all.

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Last Update: December 24, 2018