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by Ceri Clark

Uni fees – what’s the use of putting them up and up?

Currently the maximum fee charge for a university degree is £9,000 a year after raising this cap from £3,375 in 2011/2012. This already sparked many riots and protests from the student population as well as various student unions and came hand in hand with a raise in maintenance grants and loans based on household earnings. At the current rate, students taking three-year courses charged at £9,000, plus full maintenance loans, will leave university with anywhere up to £43,000 of debt but now yet again there are talks of raising those very same fees. Obviously, as a current University student I undoubtedly have a few things to say on the subject, and some of you may think I’m somewhat biased, but looking at the figures, there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, not only is it counterproductive, but also unnecessary for either side of the argument to have these fees raised at all.

Chancellor, George Osborne has recently announced two major changes that’ll affect higher education in the next year. Firstly the current maintenance grants awarded to some prospective students will be replaced with loans from 2016-17. These are still to be repaid under the same terms as tuition fees. This depends on the amount you earn of course, for example at £21,000 and under you don’t pay anything at all each month, from £25,000 its £30 a month, and so on. However, this isn’t the end of it, oh no, like any loan, you have to pay interest. So yet again there is even more to be added to the overall cost. Now I realise this is all very confusing, and like I said, there is a lot of it that makes hardly any sense even to me and I’m having to go through it all. So now I’m going to try and put it into real terms.

For my degree, I’m paying £9,000 a year. Over the three years this equates to £27,000 at the end of my degree alongside this I also have a maintenance loan with is roughly £3,100 year, give or take. This essentially brings my university debt up to £36,300 more or less. This is without factoring in interest, and right now my maths skills are in no way adequate enough to deal to try and calculate myself. Now, if I look at the first sociology teaching position I can find on the pay they offer is £26K-£47K a year this puts me around the £30-£67 a month payback. So, if my maths is correct (which it may not be to be fair). It will take me between 45 – 100 years to pay back my loan, again this is without interest. On top of that there are some rumours that you stop repaying after about 30 years. If this is the case, there is the chance that I may never entirely repay my loan, and I probably won’t be alone. So as the title of this article asks: What is the point of putting the fees up and up?

At the end of the day, it seems somewhat obvious to me that no matter what they charge there is no way anyone will ever fully repay it, either because it’s wiped after 30 years anyway, because they maybe never earn over £21K (although that’s hopefully unlikely) or because they just grow old and die. So what’s the point in constantly raising it? The only real consequence of this is that you’re putting the next generation of highly skilled, highly educated workers at a huge disadvantage as they enter the world of employment poorer and poorer and with more and more pressure to find work that, in many areas just doesn’t seem to exist or is already taken. This, alongside the ever-increasing cost of living and housing essentially puts off so many more people from going into higher education. As this continues to happen the UK will be at a huge disadvantage as we will have ever decreasing numbers of skilled workers, researchers and those who could go onto become the forbearers and pioneers of technological and scientific advancements, all because they didn’t want to risk the possibility of coming into the working world so much in debt. And yet after all this I’m left asking. How is it we can’t cover our future generations University fees? When you look to Scotland as an example the standard tuition fee for an undergraduate degree is £1,820 which, if you meet the eligibility, the Student Awards Agency for Scotland will pay, for those of us who come from the rest of the UK the universities will still charge up to £9,000. But for the most of their students the SAAS will cover the loan which is still a damn sight less than what I’ll be expected to pay myself for my own tuition. Now some might suggest that perhaps these universities are of a lower standard, or that the students who go perhaps aren’t as happy, but a quick look at the UniStats website, who look into these matters and you can see that this isn’t the case, for a sociology degree at the university of Glasgow you can see that for 90% of students, they are happy with the quality of their course. This is the same for many other countries where their own country’s students don’t have to pay the same level of fees as we do in the UK. But then again, maybe that’s the point, with our government ever full of upper class Oxbridge and Eaton educated white, privileged men maybe the idea is to keep us ‘plebs’ out of the education, away from the good opportunities and positions of higher influence so as to keep their power. But like I said, I may be biased so it’s up to you to decide.

But there are also many other impacts, not just financial, in putting fees up again. Students are already under substantial amounts of pressure. The most obvious being the pressure to perform within classes and courses but also the pressures of moving out, for many, for the first time, the pressures as young people to prove wrong the many views of laziness and disrespectfulness given by various press stories and the pressures from each other to look a certain way or to act a certain way. So to then have to face the thought that, after working so hard to get a good degree that’ll help to get a good job in the end, they will be faced with staggering amounts of debt which may never be repaid can cause many to become stressed, anxious and at worst depressed. In 2013 the guardian reported this ‘The number of students who took their own lives in England and Wales rose by 50% between 2007 and 2011 – from 75 to 112 – despite the number of students as a whole rising by only 14%’ after yet another student suicide due to the pressure of debts. This is backed up by various other reports of students spiralling down the well of depression and anxiety when being faced with an ever increasing debt in a world where living costs keep growing.