Loans, debts, credit cards; these are all words that send shivers down the spines of prospective university students across the country. With tuition fees set to spiral up to £9,000 from September 2012, is higher education really worth it these days? This is a question that many students have been asking themselves in recent months. Given the current position of the government towards higher education, university teaching may as well have come to an end for those who can’t afford it.
Only a short time ago, the Office for Fair Access announced that each of the 123 universities and university colleges in England intend to charge students more than £6,000 from September 2012, with more than one third charging £9,000. Although David Willets, Universities Minister, stated last year that the £9,000 limit could only be justified in ‘exceptional’ circumstances, when budgets are cut and a downfall strikes in our economy, the money still has come to from somewhere, and naturally that somewhere is us.
In an attempt to beat the introduction of the new fees system, many English students may have considered going to universities elsewhere in the UK. However, unfortunately for English students, they are faced with extortionate fees wherever they go.
With students from Wales keeping their current limit of £3,290, students from Northern Ireland paying about £5,750 and students from Scotland attending university for free, English students are being charged outrageous amounts of money when their colleagues across the borders are paying far less or even nothing. In the last few days, Aberdeen University became the first Scottish university to confirm that it will charge students from England the full £9,000 whilst fees for Scottish students will remain zero, and undoubtedly more universities will follow.
However, what makes this situation even worse is that under EU law, universities in Europe are forbidden to discriminate against members of other EU states and therefore must charge foreign students the same fees as home students. So if you’re from mainland Europe and study in Scotland, your education is free, yet if you’re from England and want to study in Scotland, tough luck.
As usual, this inconsistency is not being resolved by our governments, so students like Jennifer Watts, studying at Manchester University, are fighting on our behalf. With support from Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, they are preparing a test case against the inequalities of university fees.
Only time will tell whether this decision will be reconsidered, but how can we be called a fair and equal society, when young people and students are bearing the brunt of budget cuts and austerity measures to a point where there is so much confusion? Or are we denying a generation, or rather an English generation, a university education?