Fees and me

London students talk about paying for higher education.

Helen Groom

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Topics Politics

Most students seem to be either largely unaware of or unmoved by the fees debate in higher education. Many already pay fees, and they accept this as a necessary part of going to university.

When starting university, most students today accept that they will have debts of £12,000 to £15,000 by the time they leave. Such debt might not be an encouraging thing to think about at a time when you have no income, but it seems to have become the accepted price of higher education. Whether degrees are worth the money or not is another question.

Talking to students at University of London Students’ Union (ULU), many felt that they were getting their ‘money’s worth’. As higher education is increasingly discussed in terms of personal finance – something that costs money, but which will get you a decent income in the future – many students seem to view their learning in this way.

According to Elizabeth Scanlon, a biotechnology student: ‘To do a degree costs quite a lot more than the fees at the moment.’ Another student, Ksenia Vutin, said: ‘My degree is good value for money. I don’t think that £1,100 a year is a lot to pay.’

Others disagree, and worry that increasing the amount of money students have to pay will do nothing to encourage people to go to university. Philosophy student Rosie Crichton said: ‘A lot of my friends who went to university would not have gone in the future. I would not have come.’

Some of the ULU students questioned whether increasing the numbers going to university is necessarily a good idea. Most remained convinced that everyone should have the opportunity to attend university if they wish, but they wondered whether university is really the best option for everyone.

‘Many people going to university either do not want to go or would be better off doing something else, like a vocational course,’ said Rosie. ‘Everyone has the right to go to university, but maybe it is not the most useful thing for most people to do.’ ‘Many people see university as the only option available,’ said another student – not exactly the positive view of university that the government is keen to encourage.

Some students said they felt pushed into going to university because they were told they would not be able to get a good job without a degree. For Nicholas Pepper, a geography student, ‘The rise in debt is going to discourage people when there is no guarantee of a job when you finish’.

With rising numbers of students graduating from university (many more of them getting 2:1s), alongside a growth in the number of courses, the value of degrees is become less and less clear – both to students and employers.

Whether a degree is worth the estimated debt of £24,000 that each student will leave with is hard to judge. But should universities be judged in financial terms in the first place? Surely there ought to be more value to a degree, academically and educationally, than the amount of money a student has ‘paid for it’?

Student opinion seems to be unclear over the issue of fees. The changes in higher education introduced in 1998 are now accepted, and the idea of abolishing fees is not something most students even consider. Fees have almost ceased to be an issue for most students. And once that principle has been accepted, an increase in the fees and a change in the way you pay them back does not seem like such a big deal.

Whether a rise in debt is going to discourage more students from going to university is a different matter; it will certainly make some students think long and hard about what the benefits will be for them. But as two students at ULU put it, they would rather be in debt and having a good time then be stuck in a horrible job.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Education

An impoverished education for all, by Jennie Bristow

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