Despite the new £9000 fees, the number of students entering into full-time higher education in 2013 reached a record high, with almost half a million undergraduates being accepted into universities around the UK. In fact, Ucas’ figures have shown increases in the number of applications of those from disadvantaged areas, dispelling fears that only those from higher-income backgrounds would be able to afford higher-education.
Most students currently at university will be leaving with around £36,000 of debt, compared to the £18,000 that previous students owed. This is a daunting figure to be burdened with, despite assurances that repayments will only be necessary if an income is over £21,000. On top of this huge debt, many have expressed concerns that repayment conditions could be altered due to the privatisation of student debt by the government, jeopardising the future of our graduates. In late November, the government announced plans to privatise £890 million of student debt from between 1990 and 1998. With many graduates moving into rental properties, due to continuing high house-prices, life after university means monthly payments and a lot of them. Graduates will no longer be able to pursue a career they really want, but be forced into a job in order to keep paying money out.
What is becoming increasingly discussed is the amount of contact hours students are actually getting for their money. David Willets, the universities minister, acknowledged that universities were putting research over teaching, while those who are studying Arts degrees often comment on the lack of contact hours per week, despite paying the same amount as those who are in from 9 till 5 every day. A spokeswoman from universities UK claimed that contact hours does not equal a quality education claiming: “UK university education places an important focus on supporting independent study, which will vary from course to course and between individual institutions.” However, many have begun to question whether paying £9000 a year to learn from text books, and be in contact with academics only 5 hours a week, is reasonable.
In fact, the Oxford vice-chancellor said, on tuition fees: “The idea of a market – and that is what is ostensibly being created – in which every item, virtually regardless of content and quality, is the same price seems, well, a little odd”.
Despite this concern over value for money, Wendy Piatt, the director general of the Russell Group of leading research universities, defended the raised tuition fees for all students, saying:”We know that fees do not deter poorer students when they are combined with loans and a progressive repayment system.” Yet even with the progressive repayment system, this does not get rid of the crippling debt that hangs over all students on leaving university.
However this is not to say that the new tuition fees, and the larger amount of debt, has not led to any changes in applications. The number of part-time students has fallen by 40%, while a 14% drop in the number mature students applying has been recorded.
With more people attaining degrees, and more companies expecting their employees to have degrees, we are forcing the younger generation into education, and into mountains of debt- debt that may need to be paid back quicker or in larger amounts than first expected.