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.