I haven’t blogged for a while for various reasons, a combination of a crazy work schedule and a few days holiday being the main culprits. But watching the news for the past few days has compelled me to put fingers to keyboard again. I’m not talking about Matt Cardigan winning the xfactor or even ‘national treasure’ Liz Hurley falling for Bruce, no what’s got my goat is tuition fees and rioting teenagers.
Debt for life?
I think I’m in a pretty interesting position to comment on this story, I’m in my late twenties, graduated 5 years ago and have my first child due in April. I went to university just like all my brothers and sister did/have, I’m one of 5 children so there is no way my parents could fund us to study. I supported myself for the 4 years of my course, I took the maximum student loan (£4,000 a year) to pay my tuition fees and part of my rent. I then worked 3 days a week to pay for everything else. I know that working like this isn’t possible on all degree programs but I don’t buy the ‘I cant afford it’ excuse from all but the poorest families. If you want something enough, you can find a way, university doesnt have to involve going out ever night and pissing all your money up the wall.
University: a right or a privilege
Something which really frustrates me in the way this story is reported is that a degree is portrayed as a right, I totally disagree. An education yes, but not a degree, in fact it is only since labour came to power in 1997 that university was seen as the only route any sensible secondary school student could take. For many people it is actually the worst thing they can do, not all jobs/careers need a degree or really benefit from having one. You’d be better off doing something vocational after GCSE’s than getting into debt at university. Otherwise you won’t find a graduate job that pays enough to pay off that debt before you’re 50! In addition there are quite a few courses which frankly should never have been allowed to start up as they provide no useful education or skills (David Beckham studies anyone?)
My grand plan
On my degree course I had 12 hours of lessons a week, a month off at christmas, 3 weeks at easter and 4 months in the summer. We of course had assignments to write and ‘further reading’ outside of the classroom stuff, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that the course could be quite easily shortened. It used to frustrate the hell out of me that I had to work in some crappy summer job for 4 months rather than just get on and finish my degree. So my big idea number 1 is to provide more intense and shorter courses so we can take on less debt in order to complete them.
My second grand idea is to make GCSE’s and A-levels harder, I take all the stories of record grades with a pinch of salt, but if we make these exams harder, then universities wont have to spend the first year of all courses getting everyone to a suitable standard in maths and english. All the students I met who had done the international baccalaureate were miles ahead in these core skills than anyone else. Making them harder would also enable those students not wanting to do a degree to have better skills to take into the workplace.
My 3rd grand idea is to make all courses have some sort of placement as part of the syllabus. I did a sandwich course and worked for the whole of my 3rd year, the end result being that I had some real work skills and also managed to get a job offer for when I graduated. Compare this to my brother who didn’t do a placement and really struggled to find a graduate job.
What about me?
I’m fortunate to be done with my university education and well on the way to paying off my student loans, but with a child on the way is it already time to start saving for a university education? Maybe I’m fortunate that I have time to save unlike those parents with children already at secondary school? This is the culture in the US where people know that if they want that sort of education they either need to save or get a scholarship. Again going back to the point about whether it’s a right or privilege.
It’s also clear that if you are now paying £9,000 in tuition fees then universities are going to have to work a lot harder to persuade people to study there. Facilities have to improve and they’ll need to demonstrate that the graduate job prospects are better with their course. So some pain for both sides to go through, which could I think see some of the weaker universities really struggle and perhaps disappear, or at the very least streamline their courses. Which in my mind might actually be the silver lining in all this.