The International Writers Magazine: £9000 a Year for a Degree?
University Tuition Fees
Having not been able to avoid the news recently on the raising of University Tuition Fees from around three thousand pounds per year to anywhere up to nine thousand pounds, I've found myself rather baffled as to where the money will be going?
After all, having a husband who works (or at least tries to) in the Academic sector has enlightened me. It seems to me that the more money these Universities are trying to charge for their courses, the more jobs seem to be lost, positions cut or members of staff being “encouraged” to retire early.
I attended a University in England not so long ago and dutifully I paid my tuition fees. A hefty sum was handed over and looking back on my experience, I can't say I understand entirely what I was paying for? Before I am lynched I must first make a very important qualification to my previous statement: The Staff were fantastic. My lecturers loved what they were teaching and the support staff were just that, supportive. However, while the subject was loved by all involved there was very little room for manoeuvre within the curriculum and this left many of us stifled by what we were “supposed” to do rather than what would result in interesting, progressive and most of all creative research and writing.
My subject was English and Creative Writing, yet for my £3,000 a year I was taught not to think for myself, to read cliff notes and to remember: It didn't matter what you wrote as long as the referencing was right. How could higher fees make a difference? Some would claim that with more money in the pot we could have improved course structures, better facilities and more contact time with staff but really how much of that is true? The facilities at my institution were not stone-age. Brand new lecture theatres, state of the art seminar rooms and ample computer access were readily available yet I didn't feel like my learning was at the heart of it all. Money can't buy you what most students need more than anything: Enthusiasm.
While many would argue that a teacher can be enthusiastic despite poor funding, poor surroundings and unenthusiastic students I would disagree. In my experience, of the lectures I attended many students didn't turn up, and many didn't take advantage of the seminars, revision classes or indeed the library which is where the majority of learning happens. It didn't surprise me to learn that our teachers were disheartened and disenchanted with the process just as much as we were. I spent much of my time at University frustrated by my fellow students who would rather drink late into the night and miss classes than to actually study for the course they've paid for. If higher University fees weeded out those time-wasting individuals then maybe there is a benefit?
But would that benefit actually be? You see, Universities should be open to those who are willing, ready and able to learn. Not all people are cut out for higher education yet with the Government encouraging every individual to attend a place of higher learning how will these people realise that it is just not for them? The projects that try to get all 11 to 16 year olds to attend college and then a minimum of 50% of college leavers to consider University places as their future don't leave room for those who aren't academically inclined or who would rather pursue a vocational course rather than sit in lectures for the next 3 years. Would higher fees help these youngsters to decide if it really is for them? Or, instead, would it simply rule it out as an option for those who can't afford it, but would really love to be in an environment of learning and stimulation?
If it hadn't been for a student loan, I would not have been able to go to University. That's a simple fact. Yet now I have left, I am still holding on to a debt that I will never be able to erase. Why is that? Despite the fact that I was a student while the tuition fees were still low, I do not earn enough to cover the expenses incurred. A bursary was offered to me, but then my father – who was self-employed at the time- began to earn a little more and it was recalled. You see, my parent's income was the assessment factor as to whether I would get help. This process didn't take into account that I didn't have at my disposal my parents income, didn't have enough time to work to pay it off while I was studying and had no guarantee of a better job and better income after my studies were finished. So while there are promises of better education for your money, there also comes the assurance of struggling, debt and frustration. After all, the very poorest students might get help to pay for University but those in the “middle” will be left behind to work in Asda, McDonald's and Call Centres rather than getting to experience what it is that their made for.
If each institution first looked at what they had to offer and then looked at the students they were accepting then maybe it would be fairer, maybe the help would be better shared around and then maybe I'd not see students falling-down drunk on my doorstep every night spending their loans on booze rather than books. In my personal experience, those who get the most out of the experience of University are those who've returned at an older age to study, when they're more sure of what they want out of life, why they want to study and what subject they want to study. They make the most of each opportunity that comes because they've learnt to appreciate the value of education and the responsibility that comes with it.
I firmly believe that instead of asking whether tuition fees are low enough or too high we should be asking ourselves whether our Universities have got it right? Would it be better to raise the admission age to accommodate the slightly older and to let the younger candidates get their partying out of the way first, or should we have a shake up of the educational system and adopt the American method of Major and Minor subject areas? If the price for University is too high then the people will vote with their feet, but if the quality of education is too low, then there's little hope for the next generation and that will become only too evident in time.
© Lauren Macpherson May 2011
l.macpherson at ymail.com