Following a worldwide recession in 2008 and subsequent problems with the UK economy, last year England’s Government decided that universities would be allowed to raise their undergraduate fees as high as £9,000. This will no doubt increase student’s worry and anxiety over their finances, and it may deter those from less privileged backgrounds from applying. Although this action has been as part of the austerity measures aiming to recover the economy, the government has to pay the fees in the interim between students studying and earning £21,000 a year or more by offering students loans, and, because more universities than anticipated raised their fees to the top price, there have been reports that the government will have difficulty providing these funds, and the government expects approximately 30% of the money to never be repaid.
A major problem has arisen from this whole situation for the liberal democrats, who promised to phase out fees if they came into power. By agreeing to this increase in fees, effectively turning their backs on their policy, they have forfeited the support and the faith of their supporters. As the junior member of the coalition, they were not in a strong position to combat these changes, but those who voted for them still feel betrayed. Obviously, the increases will have a very negative effect on those choosing to go on to further education, and it may also mean that some people will miss out because they are too worried about the costs. This new policy may feel even more unfair because there was a time when getting a university education was free, although this was at a time when less people applied for and attended university, so the strain on government funds would not have been as great. A major concern is that increased fees will deter students from families with less money than others, undoing any work to try and make universities places of equality.
Students who are planning to start university in September 2012 will be the first to experience the increased fees. Consequently, applications for English universities are down by 9.9% this year. Although there are other options for young people, with high unemployment rates (especially youth unemployment, with over one million young people unemployed) and some significant problems with the apprenticeship schemes currently in place, many young people may be at a loose end after school. Still, going to university will not immediately solve this problem for individuals, as graduate employment is also high, and the addition of student debt hanging over your head is never a good thing. It is predicted that students will leave university with debt of £45,000, making attending English university one of the most expensive options in the world.
One option is to study abroad. Students from England can get scholarships to colleges in America, and some of these scholarships will cover tuition, accommodation and even flights to and from the UK. It may be hard for English students to adjust to a different lifestyle in America, especially considering the differences between the two education systems, and scholarships are awarded to those with consistently high performance, but all in all it offers a great opportunity. Another way for UK students to avoid large fees is to study in Europe, where university education is free or partly subsidised by the government. This may not be a viable option everybody because of the cost of going home during the holidays etc., and the increased cost of living in cities. Also, not all European universities will offer their lectures/classes in English, and living in a country where you do not speak the language fluently is likely to be a difficult experience.
Despite all this, the fall in applications this year is somewhat smaller than was originally forecasted. As of yet, the extra student debt does not seem to be putting large numbers of people off, and with the student loan system the fees will hopefully be manageable for most people, as long as they handle their money responsibly. It seems that attending university is becoming a more accepted and accessible choice for people from all backgrounds, and gaining a further education is becoming a higher priority for young people. Although not for everybody, going to university is a great opportunity and it is better for it to be available to as many people who can benefit from it as possible.