Sunday, 12 February 2012

Thinking about tuition fees

I've been thinking a lot about tuition fees lately. I wrote a blog post a few weeks back about the potential impact of tuition fees on part time students, but I've also been wondering how the new system will affect higher education in general. 

I've just watched an excellent film on Vimeo called "I melt the glass with my forehead" which really examines the whole issue in some detail. I've embedded the video below and although it's fifty minutes long I think it's well worth a watch for anyone interested in the subject.

"I melt the glass with my forehead" from Heraclitus Pictures on Vimeo.

Personally, I think about the issue from a number of different perspectives. Firstly I wonder what impact tuition fees would have had on my life if they had been around when I entered higher education. Mine wasn't a traditional route into HE. I left school without A-Levels and went to work. I attended college on a day-release basis to gain an ONC qualification. Then, after about six years in work I decided at the age of 24 to return to full time education to gain a HND. I didn't have to pay any tuition fees, and I even received a small maintenance grant which was a real help to me in making that difficult decision to give up paid employment. The HND enabled me to progress on to a degree and subsequently to become professionally qualified. I'm fairly sure that if I'd had to pay tuition fees and saddle myself with a significant debt, I wouldn't have done it. I can't help thinking that mature students will be disproportionally affected by the the new fees, and many of them will simply be put off higher education. That is a great shame.

Secondly, I think about tuition fees as a parent. I have two teenage children. Only a few years ago I would have confidently expected both of them to go to university, but now I have my doubts. One of them has already expressed serious reservations about university and the other is undecided. Whilst I can't help feeling a twinge of disappointment, I'm certainly not going to put pressure on them. Under the new regime young people will undoubtedly think much more carefully before deciding to go to university, and will only go if they think the long term rewards will outweigh the costs. Perhaps that is a good thing, since it should in theory mean that those who do enter higher education are genuinely committed to it. However, it also means that an awful lot of young people are likely to forgo the potentially life-changing experience of university.

That brings me to my third perspective, which is as a university lecturer. My subject area (construction and surveying) is essentially vocational, so it is possible that we will be less affected by the new fees system than the more traditional, academic subject areas. I suspect that many young people will choose to study subjects that are likely to provide a direct entry route to a professional career, so accredited courses in professional areas may well benefit from the new regime. Nevertheless, it will be a great shame for the country as a whole if applications to degree courses in the arts and humanities decline significantly. Society needs the thinkers and the creative minds which such courses produce. 

1 comment:

  1. Only a few weeks after you posted that the BBC announced that higher fees may deter mature students:
    I first studied at HE level in the mid 1980’s, and received a small government grant of about £400 per year. I returned to HE in 2004 aged 42 and had to pay the recently introduced HE fee of £1,100 per annum. However, my local authority paid about two thirds of that. I consider myself lucky. The fees rose to £3,000 per annum while I was studying, but I remained don the "old" fee regime. Looking back, I would probably still have gone into HE the second time if the fees were £3,00 per annum, as I think that I might have been prepared to invest £9,000 over three years because the course was vocational and I was convinced that it would lead to a better job, which it did. I would definitely not wish, or be able, to take a degree costing 8 or 9 thousand pound per annum.
    The choice seems to be invest 27 thousand pounds plus living costs in the hope that a degree will bring improved job prospects or put the same money towards a house or flat deposit, assuming of course you have that kind of money in the first place. Like Tony, I too wonder about my own son. He is 21 months old, and I hate to think what the fees might by the time he is 18. I certainly would not be able to pay today’s fees for him.
    On another note, the rise in unpaid internships signals employers’ willingness to exploit graduates and the watering down of the value of first degrees, as graduate struggle to find graduate level employment. I have met many European graduates who felt forced into taking Masters level degrees to compete in the jobs market.