Comment Writer Natalia Carter conducts a survey to determine whether sex education in the UK is satisfactoryWritten by Natalia Carter on 23rd March 2018
Damaging Policy Change: University Fees
Comment Writer Rahim Mohamed argues university is a unique experience for everyone, not just the means to a job
The government’s review on university fees has been announced and is anticipated to last a year before its findings are released.
To summarise the stance that the government has taken so far: tuition fees will not be scrapped; many types of degrees need to provide more value for money or a greater variation in the amount of fees charged as they are uncompetitively priced; and the type of courses available should be more flexible to cater for students who want to live at home or be in employment while they study for their degrees.
My concern here is that the approach taken to try and provide a better higher education experience is too narrow. It revolves primarily around money. Focus is shifting further away from what, for me, has been a far more important issue predating the tripling of tuition fees in 2012: how do you justify obtaining a university degree in regards to its relevance (or lack of) for future job prospects, in relation to the amount of debt you’ll incur along the way?
“A lot of students have simply found a subject that they’re genuinely interested in and really want to spend their energies studying it
For some, and I’d argue that they are the minority, this isn’t so difficult to answer. A lot of students have simply found a subject that they’re genuinely interested in and really want to spend their energies studying it.
For others however, the answer isn’t so straightforward.
This was a question put to me several times at my old firm, sometimes by work experience students trying to decide between applying for a school-leaver programme and university, and other times by older colleagues who chose not to take the university route but nonetheless held very senior positions.
The lines of argument that I pursued seemed to fall on deaf ears and went a little like this: ‘you can really dive into a subject area that you’re interested in, it’ll better prepare you for your job, join cool societies and honestly, mate, uni’s where some of the best people you’ll meet and keep in touch with can be found’.
But to be honest, you don’t need university for any of this; many people don’t have a passion (let alone an understanding) of a subject that they’d like to study aged 18, so why prepare for a job when you can just jump straight in? Societies and people with common interests are just as easily found outside of university and friends for life are also made in a work environment.
How then do you sell university as more than just a tick-box exercise or, as a friend of mine who sacked off his PPE degree at Oxford after one year put it, simply a ‘three-year jolly’?
I think you have to view it as a blank canvas where each individual gets an opportunity to make of it what they will.
There is no set template to follow and that’s what is so unique about it.
“There is no right or wrong amount of time that you should attribute to your degree or extra-curricular activities or social life
There is no right or wrong amount of time that you should attribute to your degree or extra-curricular activities or social life. If you want to improve your life skills such as cooking, great! If you can’t be arsed and would rather just live on ready meals, fine! If someone you’ve met has made a more than compelling argument as to why you should be a vegan, feel free to give it a go!
The point is that as a student, this is your time – an opportunity for you to start finding your own way and discovering what works and maybe what doesn’t work, so you’re well placed to make better life decisions further down the line.
Afterwards, decisions that you make will set you on a path that’s largely written for you and offers little room for manoeuvre.
This is where government and key education officials are falling short of the mark. They choose to see these years through a simplistic lens: university is a stepping stone to a job.
Further tinkering with fees for certain degrees will produce unwanted results: there will be a greater incentive for students to move away from the more expensive courses (against their will) while those degrees charging the most at prestigious universities won’t be impacted due to their demand, setting them further apart from their competitors.
“They choose to see these years through a simplistic lens: University is a stepping stone to a job
Tripling of tuition fees has already acted as a disincentive for many to apply.
Continuing to interfere in this manner will only serve to further limit the options available to those considering whether to go to university.
Instead, policymakers should take a step back, promote an environment where students have the independence to experiment. For some, university is a chapter in life that’s easy to justify but for those that need more time to figure it out, give them the freedom to decide. Don’t take that prerogative away from them through haphazard policy.