Emily Downs writes…

Following the recent tuition fee debate, and with the risk of upsetting a large number of fellow students, I have to admit that I actually agree with the Vice Chancellor. He made a number of good points that I think we, as disgruntled students striving for change, should have been more willing to take on board in order to stimulate any type of cooperative solution. The Chancellor’s views that seemed to cause most controversy were the belief that higher education is not a right but a privilege, and a reluctance to participate in any further challenge against the bid to increase university tuition fees. I believe the Chancellor was right to take this stance and that the immense strength and solidarity shown by students on this subject is being channelled in the wrong direction.

The first thing we must come to terms with is the fact that Higher Education is not a right. Standard education on the other hand most definitely is a right and is one which, as extremely lucky members of a fairly wealthy nation every one of us is provided with and so many of us take for granted. A right is something that all human beings should have because without it they are unable to live safely and healthily, e.g. the right to healthcare, or the right to equality. This is not the case with higher education. Admittedly, University is a unique experience seen by many as an essential part of their maturation. But it is not necessary for everyone; many youngsters aspire to more practical vocations for which a degree is unnecessary. Clearly, Higher Education is not a right but a lifestyle choice; we must face up to this when considering its cost.

In the UK, our government spends vast amounts in honouring our right to a standard level of education with school fees being paid for everyone up until the age of 16/17. In a time of economic crisis, and when the decision has been made to impose vast cuts on public spending, whether we like it or not those cuts are going to affect us. Personally, I would rather take on the burden of a greater student debt than see primary and secondary school students miss out on the standard of education that is their right, or instead see extra burden put on the NHS, already strained to its limits.

The fact is that whatever debt we may rack up through tuition fees, it has already been ensured that we shall only pay it back when we can afford to. The £21,000 threshold has been put there for a reason, and we should be grateful that the government has even had the decency to increase the amount in recognition of the increased burden of the rise in fees. University is undeniably expensive. Expensive is not the same, however, as unaffordable. In the current situation the government, individual universities and national and international sponsors go to great lengths to provide scholarships, bursaries other access schemes to prevent finances from being a deciding factor when opting to go to university. Official UCAS figures show the positive effect of these efforts; last year saw a 2.3% increase of successful students coming from the most disadvantaged fifth of the population. Ignoring the proposed cut of EMA, a cut which I do not support and believe needs serious reconsideration, government efforts to make university entrance universal do appear to be working.

Furthermore, we tend to forget just how much it costs to provide us with the state of the art facilities, high quality teaching and once in a life-time opportunities and experiences that as students we eagerly lap up. In reality the amounts we pay ourselves are mere subsidiaries to the grand total that is required yet we also have the benefit of fun and exciting experiences along the way.

Whichever way you look at them these government cuts are going to hit hard. In my opinion, students have been some of the luckier ones. Yes, we will have a debt, but if we lose our job, are underpaid, or even if we haven’t managed to pay it off within twenty years, it will go away. What about those people slogging away in the public sector having their jobs snatched from under their feet, or the women who will find themselves hit by these cuts disproportionately to their male colleagues, or those who rely on council facilities such as libraries to provide them some little enjoyment or structure that they so desperately need but may have taken away? These are the people we should be fighting for. We must bear the plight of the non-students in mind, the plight of all those in society who will suffer the consequences of cuts to all forms of public spending, not just education cuts, and not just students. Our protest is for a privilege; it is vital that all students bear this in mind.

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11 Comments

  1. Tyler
    December 15, 2010 at 13:24 — Reply

    Emily, I disagree with your article in its entirety.

    On the topic of the right to higher education, you seem to be misguided as to what many students mean when they label higher education as a right. Few, if any, are suggesting that everyone should go to university, even fewer suggesting that it is essential to our life and wellbeing. The point you seem to have missed is that it is the opportunity of university which should be a right to all.

    It is impractical and indeed financially impossible for every young person in the Country to go to university but, each should young person should have the opportunity open to them if they so wish. Unfortunately, this will no longer be the case under current government proposals. Why? There are many reasons but, the main cause is a topic you flippantly bypassed – the closure of EMA.

    EMA is not something that is separate to the Higher education debate. EMA provides funds for disadvantaged students to stay in education and as someone from a poorer background I know it facilitated my studying at College rather than going out straight away and earning a living.

    With the cuts to EMA, this 2.3% rise in students from disadvantaged backgrounds that you seem to be so delighted about will be inexplicably reversed and, once again, we will see the Russell group out of the grasp of the disadvantaged.

    You also seem to forget that this student movement is a national campaign against fees and cuts. Indeed, one of the demands in the recent occupation here in our very own Nottingham was the guarantee of staff jobs. This student movement is one that includes the cuts being made to education that will result in the loss of teachers, researchers, cleaners and caretakers. Our protest is for opportunity. Our protest is for future disadvantaged students. Our protest is against the commodification of education.a

  2. December 15, 2010 at 13:42 — Reply

    Dear Impact Magazine Nottingham,
    This article is really well worded but it does not quite explain the matter in full and in parts is hard to understand.
    Yours Faithfully,
    James Walker
    Year 7 Wood Green School Witney Pupil

  3. Devil's Advocate
    December 15, 2010 at 14:34 — Reply

    Just a quick note.

    I am a 3rd year student about to graduate (with no younger siblings) and I for one am not saying that I support the education cuts… BUT… has no one considered the fact that with less people going to university after us (anyone at University now – regardless of year of graduation – is exempt from the changes) that there will be less competition in an already saturated job market.

    Just a thought – and certainly a very selfish one at that – but at the end of the day I am already worried as it is about finding a job in the current climate.

    Don’t hate me for playing devil’s advocate.

  4. Mea Goodall
    December 15, 2010 at 16:43 — Reply

    I completely agree with the gist of this article. Education is most definitely a right, higher education is however a privilege. As university has become accessible to many people in this country it is now seen by many as a ‘right of passage’ into adulthood. When I was at college, it did not surprise me that so many students lacked a strong work ethic because, if everything is handed to us on a plate, what’s the point in working hard? However, I was surprised when I saw so many of these people successfully applying to university.

    I disagree with the author about the EMA though. It should be scrapped and I’ll tell you why. When I hear stories of people who refuse to go to college because they have not recieved their £30, but can still afford to go out drinking and partying, then it leaves me wondering why on earth they feel deserving of a handout from the government.

    I was originally shocked by the tripling of tuition fees but, with consideration, you only start paying back when you earn £21 000. I was most worried about the cuts to university but as I am beginning to realise with my history course, most of it consists of my own reading and apart from one module I have fortnightly seminars which don’t even last the full hour. Moreover, a number of times lecturers have failed to turn up to the lectures so really maybe these cuts might not be such a bad thing.

    I know I’m in the minority at the moment; most people will disagree with my comment but I just hate the way students in this country feel that they should expect a higher education no matter what.

  5. December 15, 2010 at 19:19 — Reply

    1) @ Emily: I’m pretty sure that I read somewhere that the remaining balance of what you owe will be scrapped after 30 years, not 20.

    2) Although, I do agree that university is not a “right”, I do not agree with it being deemed a “privilege”. Nowadays, (from what I’ve experienced and the experiences of my friends) if you are a young person just out of 6th form/ college entering the job market you can usually expect a starting salary of around £15,000 a year maximum (before tax). A lot of the time, the kinds of jobs you will be able to get employed in will only included unskilled or semi-skilled labour such as working in retail, a call centre or as a cashier in a bank. These jobs usually offer little career progression when you come in at entry level.

    On the other hand, average graduate starting salaries can range from £18,000-22,000 and career progression seems to occur much quicker, especially for those people that do a graduate scheme at a big company. My point is that, whilst university is not a MUST, it is very difficult to start your own life i.e. find your own place to live, settle down and have a family etc on £15k a year – especially for people like me who are from London. (The next thing people will be saying is that it’s not a “right” to live in London…)

    Many people do see going to university as a necessity; they understand that if they don’t go to university it will be harder to get a job which pays enough for them to do the things in life that they would like. So, it comes down to the fact that as the cost of living gets more and more expensive, more people will want to go to university in order to have access to the part of the job market which pays enough for them to live comfortably. I always hear comments such as “well my parents don’t have a degree and they get by just fine/have good jobs” but what people need to remember is that even 10 years ago having a degree was not considered a must. Nowadays, however, there are an increasing number of jobs and job sectors which will not even consider you for a role unless you have a degree. So don’t blame students or young people for thinking that a degree is a right and a necessity, blame the employers.

    3) @ Mea: That may be your experience with EMA, mine differs. Most people I know who received EMA, including myself, used it to cover their travel expenses and lunch money. I received £20 a week in my 1st year of college and then £10 in my 2nd (based on my parents earnings). I also had a part-time job. Consequently, I was able to go to a relatively good college and ended up coming to the UoN. With the scrapping of EMA what will happen is people will just go to the NEAREST 6th form/college, not the BEST in their area. EMA does make a difference especially for Londoners as our travel is so ridiculously expensive. Additionally, the EMA Bonus acts as another method of motivation. If you have a good record in terms of attendance, punctuality and coursework submission throughout the whole term you get £100 “bonus” at the end of it. Yes, people are being given money for doing “what they should be doing anyway” but it is a system that works and by taking it away social mobility rates WILL drop.

  6. Mea Goodall
    December 16, 2010 at 10:11 — Reply

    Vanessa
    Reading my comment, I may have come across as a bit harsh and no I don’t think that all students are, for want of a better phrase, scrounging louts. Obviously there are students such as yourself who have benefited academically with EMA and that’s great.

    However, I seriously don’t agree with an end of year bonus. I think that gives entirely the wrong message that if you go to all your lessons and complete the work then you’ll get extra money. That should no way be an incentive for something that you should be doing anyway. Isn’t it enough that you should love learning just for learning’s sake and not just feel obliged to do it because you’re getting extra money? But actually that is a policy that I would fully expect from New Labour. Throwing money at things in the hope of positive results. In the long term, that is an unfeasible option and why I think that EMA, or at least the bonus, should be scrapped.

  7. Michael de V
    December 16, 2010 at 17:09 — Reply

    I don’t think anybody our age should have to be subject to the psychological burden of having £40,000+ in debt upon leaving uni, regardless of whether they will eventually have to pay it all off or not. I also think that the very slight increased in maintenance grants does not really reflect the gargantuan increase in fees, however let’s hope the university will respond in being generous with their bursaries, and also spend as much money as they can on students and for students!

    However, despite this, I do think that some elements of the changes are progressive and are positive:

    In raising the threshold at which a graduate would repay debts to £21k, it will allow many people who are forced into part-time and temp work not be burdened into repayments (unless they do earn over £21k obviously).

    Secondly, with job security as it is at the minute (and no doubt for the next few years), I think it a positive that repayments are halted should a graduate lose their job and drop below £21k.

    Thirdly, the amount a graduate would have to pay back each month is much less than they would have had to under the old system. There are of course draw-backs in that the debt will be to your name for longer, but at least you have more control over the speed at which you repay your fees.

    As for Higher Education being a right…I wholeheartedly agree that everyone who is attracted to the idea of a degree should not be put off by debt. However, although I am very concerned that £9,000 a year is far too high a price for anyone to pay, I wonder if the focus on apparent cost from everyone will make prospective students overlook some of the beneficial and debt-limiting features of the changes.

    As for EMA cuts, I think it ridiculous that the Government thinks that the only point of it is to keep students in School/College, when it should be recognised as something which allows students to fully focus on their studies. I notice that there has been some research done since which suggests that the money spent on EMA is actually offset by what those that receive it can contribute later in life.

    Finally, I wonder what the guys and girls that chose to leave uni at 16 and have since made successes for themselves think about having to cover the costs for their peers who chose to stay in education? This is me being devil’s advocate…but in all this you rarely get to hear what they think on the matter?!

    Yes people should be encouraged to consider Higher Education without fear of unimagined debt, but with every choice comes a cost and I do hope both the government and the university will help students repay this cost. And I also hope that the government succeeds in spending the money they have cut from Higher Education in a way that will still benefit those that have lost out, be it on welfare, encouraging job creation, or just getting our economy back on track.

  8. Luke Place
    December 19, 2010 at 04:47 — Reply

    Firstly, rights can exist without ever being exercised. I have the right to privacy, the right to start a family, the right to vote and so on, but if I never use these rights that makes them no less real. Something being “necessary for everyone” is not a necessary condition for it to be considered a right.

    Secondly, if it’s the case that…

    “A right is something that all human beings should have because without it they are unable to live safely and healthily, e.g. the right to healthcare, or the right to equality”

    …then why is even basic education a right? You can certainly be uneducated but still be safe and healthy. If a right to basic education is being justified in your definition on the grounds of equality (and its effect upon human welfare), then surely university education can be too?

    There’s a lot of talk about social mobility, but there are few things more “socially immobilising” than being unable to attain a degree. Want to be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, etc. and you’ll almost certainly need a degree. If you’re cut off from those opportunities your life is profoundly restricted. It’s a right because society wouldn’t allow it if academic qualifications could blatently be bought.

  9. Luke Place
    December 19, 2010 at 05:40 — Reply

    “Official UCAS figures show the positive effect of these efforts; last year saw a 2.3% increase of successful students coming from the most disadvantaged fifth of the population …government efforts to make university entrance universal do appear to be working.”

    Given that the number of successful applicants has increased from 477,277 to 479, 057 across all backgrounds, an increase from 29,390 to 30,052 from the most disadvantaged fifth is a drop in the ocean really.

    Where before the most disadvantaged 20% of the country were represented by 6.16% of the successful university applicants, now the most disadvantaged 20% are represented by 6.27% of successful applicants.

    The most priviliged 20% of the country were represented by 31.16% of successful applicants, so they are 5 times more likely to successfully apply to university than somebody from the most disadvantaged 20%.

    http://www.ucas.ac.uk/documents/mediareleases/endofyearreport.pdf

  10. December 22, 2010 at 11:45 — Reply

    To further Lukes comments you also need to consider exactly what university is an what benefit it gives to ourselves and to society as a whole. The reason to protest against these fees and cuts isn’t simply because they force students to make a contribution (that is a something I actually agree with) or because the cuts are incredably shortsighted and will be detrimental to the future of the country (which itself is a good enough reason).

    its because they change the basis on which university is funded entirely and the philopshical basis behind tuition fees and state funding. By cutting 80% of the teaching grant and 40 overall this government has decided to try and pull the state out of the provision of tertary education enitrely. When Labour introduced fees in 1998/2004 it was to increase university spending without an overly large burden on the state and to make sure students gave some sort of contribution to their education. Even with 3 grand of fees, a sum which is far too high IMO, a vast majority of funding came from the state and thats how it should be: society as a whole benefits from having a strong universities sector: it contributes 3% directly to our GDP, is one of our few world class industrys and having a large pool of well educated graduate attracts companies to our country. Thats not even counting the societal and basic humanitarian benefits of higher education.

    Through these cuts the government is inverting that basic principle and stratagy. No longer will the state be the main provider of funding behind education. 9 grand fees won’t go into improving universities funding levels or providing a better education for outselves, for all the free market bullshit the government comes up with, but instead it’ll go towards replacing the costs that the government used to provide. Far from cutting the defict we’re simply shifting the debt burden from the government to ourselves-not exactly a positive move. Its a big step towards the privatisation on higher education and a move towards a US style system…

    I’m not going to address your over comments in full-as I said others have done so fairly effectively in this comment section- save to say that higher education is a right and that students won’t ‘get off lightly’ from this coalition-few other social groups are being plunged into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt and we’ll also suffer from the coalitions slashing of benefits, reforms of education and healthcare and so on. We don’t simply get hurt by tuition fees but also from every other societal mesure this government brings in.

  11. Nona Mills
    December 22, 2010 at 21:53 — Reply

    “Official UCAS figures show the positive effect of these efforts; last year saw a 2.3% increase of successful students coming from the most disadvantaged fifth of the population …government efforts to make university entrance universal do appear to be working.” Given that the number of successful applicants has increased from 477,277 to 479, 057 across all backgrounds, an increase from 29,390 to 30,052 from the most disadvantaged fifth is a drop in the ocean really. Where before the most disadvantaged 20% of the country were represented by 6.16% of the successful university applicants, now the most disadvantaged 20% are represented by 6.27% of successful applicants. The most priviliged 20% of the country were represented by 31.16% of successful applicants, so they are 5 times more likely to successfully apply to university than somebody from the most disadvantaged 20%. http://www.ucas.ac.uk/documents/mediareleases/endofyearreport.pdf

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