Comment writer Chloe Melvin reflects on how economics in student finance is setting you up to fail in society before you have even started.

Images by Josh Appel

Year on year, the cost of becoming a university student is increasing. This is due to the extortionate costs necessary to eat, work, and commute in the current economic minefield. Before even being accepted as a university student, many students are calling into question whether it remains feasible for them to continue into higher education. At a time where students are finding it hard to afford food or books, and when FE News claims that ‘one in six are considering quitting their course to get a job’, I argue that this is the time that something needs to be done. 

Many students are calling into question whether it remains feasible for them to continue into higher education

Forecasts are predicting that university fees could be increasing over the current limit of £9250 in coming years, with undergraduate fees possibly costing a couple of thousand pounds more for home students. However, for students wanting to continue their education at master’s level, the difference between university fees and student loans is already too big.

For 2024 entry, prospective students for most UoB taught master’s programmes will be required to pay above the undergraduate limit, with the taught costs for a Masters in Applied Mathematics costing £10,530. After deducting this cost from your singular, non-means-tested loan from Student Finance England (if you are a student from England applying for this loan), based on the 2023 loan you will be left with a whopping £1637 at your disposal. Don’t spend it all at once, kids.

And this is without having to pay for accommodation costs. If you’re not one of the lucky ones who can attend the university of your choice within a commutable distance of your family home (or if you would like to experience an independent living situation – which university is supposed to encourage), Unipol states that your accommodation fees alone will be over £7000 for a year, and just under £10,000 if you study in London. As you know, this already large expense does not even cover the cost of food, toiletries, and other necessary household expenses, which are constantly creeping up due to the cost-of-living crisis plaguing the country.

I have personally seen my own academic choices being influenced and even curtailed by these exacerbated costs. Instead of applying for the MA English Literature course that I had originally wanted to apply for last year– wanting to continue my undergraduate days of attending lectures, discussing ideas and making friends in seminars, while continuing to live my newly-found independent life in the city– I was faced with the decision of bankruptcy, (and to let my grades suffer through needing to work), or to choose a research degree at half the price and return to living at home again to study as a distance learner.

Luckily, I am fortunate to have parents who can accommodate for me to live at home again, but this is not a situation that everyone is able to fall back on. I am also lucky enough to have a course that is easily accessible to study from home; I have brilliantly supportive thesis supervisors whom it is easy to contact via email or Zoom, in a course which I have ended up enjoying much more than the one that I intended to take originally. But should I have been forced to make this decision in the first place?

We all deserve equal access to education

It is my opinion that we all deserve equal access to education despite family background, and it is clear that those students who are well-off will have a higher chance of affording to pursue the degree of their choice without worry. As usual, I think the poorest among us will bear the brunt. As a society, we need to do more to invest in talented working-class students who deserve a chance to improve their lives through education at some of the country’s most respected universities. To give them the agency that other members of society enjoy. 

To any students, prospective or returning, who would love to undertake a university course yet are worried about the costs, I would advise to go for it – I did. Don’t let anyone destroy your dreams or take away from your ambition. 

For more Redbrick article’s on the student experience:

Crumbling Schools: A structural weakness 

Sunak’s plans to cap ‘rip-off’ degrees will leave many students without enough options

Reflections on my degree