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Why The Tuition Fee Increase Is A Positive Change: A Student’s View

I’ll cut to the chase. Tuition fees will nearly triple from 2012, from £3,375 to between £6,000 and £9,000 per year, with most institutions choosing to charge the latter. This is obviously not a positive change, not least because funding cuts in other public spending pale in comparison to the alleged 80% of cuts to higher education budgets. The fee increase puts students from a wealthier background in a better position compared to their less advantaged counterparts and obstructs those bright students who aren’t prepared to immerse themselves in so much debt. The myriad disadvantages of the cuts to university funding notwithstanding, I feel that the tuition fee hike will bring about a crucial change in the British university culture, culminating in a change the way Higher Education is viewed in society.

Though some students will treat their degree like a full-time job, the classic student stereotype of spending their entire maintenance loan in one go, drinking every night and sleeping through lectures is, unfortunately, not unfounded. This behaviour is especially commonplace in first year, when freshers will eagerly remind one another “first year doesn’t count!”, and “you only need 40%”, with many committing to the bare minimum academically. While most students will pull their socks up upon entering second year, a large percentage of the student body continue their time at University in perennial ‘fresher mode’. Although, one must ask, why wouldn’t they? Most students entering university are viewed as wide-eyed and breathless 18 year-olds, fresh from their A-Levels and the confines of the parental home- and in many senses they are- but they are also adults: adults savvy enough to know how jammy their position is and to recognise that they’ve landed on their feet. The government has handed students a Get Out of Jail Free card for the next three years, as well as doling out winnings of £100 in the crossword competition, with students collecting £10 from each player for their birthdays, and they are -quite literally- laughing all the way to the bank. In a nutshell, for three years students are given the chance to spend their money in any way they choose, living a life where every day is a weekend and early mornings don’t exist, before scraping a 2:1 at the end of it all and presto: here’s your degree and guaranteed starting salary, Mr. Graduate.

In addition to this there is another, albeit less extreme, type of student who is at university for the wrong reasons. I have personally experienced fellow students confessing to “hating their course”, and there are many who just don’t feel academically inclined after a certain period. These students remain in limbo, resenting their studies and the debt they accumulate for them yet continuing in the hope of obtaining the coveted degree. Obviously, some people do end up on the wrong course but many students chose university simply because they feel that there is no other real option. Many college students view university as the natural ‘next step’- as natural as the transfer from primary school to secondary school, and from secondary school to college. Except of course, that the tuition fee debt is not taken into account and is very much a case of ‘out of sight out of mind’, not only when choosing whether to enter university but all the way throughout. College leavers are not given enough information about what other career options are available after A-Levels, and so will go with the majority, some of whom are, unfortunately, just following each other over the cliff.

Furthermore, both the feckless-boozer-type student and the misguided, no longer academic student have seen the rise of the ‘Perpetual Student’, those minority few who drop out and start again, only to drop out and start again, either to fuel a 36 month long Fresher’s year (they do exist!) or to desperately find the course and/or institution that’s right for them. Now, however, because the tuition fees are being raised to such astronomically high levels, students and their parents will be actively seeking out every conceivable option to make an informed decision about the future, not just taking the automatic ‘next step’, and those who are at university will certainly be much more likely to make their money worthwhile, thus eliminating both the freeloaders and the wanderers. To employ yet another stereotype, one notable category of hard workers is that of the international students, which is unsurprising considering that their tuition fees are at least four times the current national undergraduate tuition fee.

I’ll get the article disclaimer out of the way now: of course there are thousands and thousands of students who get to university, appreciate the position they’re in and work very, very hard. And of course the difference between the party animal and the high-achiever is never black and white. But already, even without the recession, graduate jobs are few and far between because degrees are worth ten-a-penny. The once prestigious degree has now been diluted so much because every Tom, Dick and Harry can get some form of a degree, with 83 graduate applicants for every graduate job.

Admittedly, I’m playing devil’s advocate, because what’s good for society isn’t necessarily beneficial to individuals, and just as I believe the tuition fee rise will change the existing university culture for the better, it’s still affecting me personally. My painfully bright younger sister, who would have been the first batch of students paying the increased fee, is now taking a year out to decide if she can commit to so much debt (a heady decision for any seventeen year old to make), and she leaves another, equally bright sibling in her wake. It seems so unfair that what was laid out on a plate for me will literally be about three times harder for them, yet this is the scenario being played out up and down the country. The tuition fee increase will undoubtedly scupper the academic hopes of thousands, but in the longer term will transform the culture of those university students riding the wave of little work and all play for maximum gain, and make those who are at university make their buck go further, while allowing those who chose other career options to find one that actually suits them. Degrees need to be made meaningful again, not just to employers but also to students themselves.

Sian Boyle

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10 Comments on this post.
  • peter
    3 November 2011 at 17:45
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    you didn’t address any of the key issues in this article, or what makes students angry. Quite a poor article.

  • Tyler O’Sullivan
    3 November 2011 at 19:11
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    “The tuition fee increase will undoubtedly scupper the academic hopes of thousands”

    and this is acceptable to you, as is your sibling doubting a university education, in the blind hope that the fee increase will “transform the culture of those university students riding the wave of little work and all play for maximum gain”

    so in summary: triple tuition fees so students are a little more frugal and the lazy ones will drop out.

    Yes, the majority of students party a little harder in first year and we’ve all told each other “you only need 40%” but that is exactly what first year is for, a transition from College to University they are vastly different worlds and the 40% cushion allows those with a party spirit to get it out of their systems and those that are academically motivated from the get- go to get a little ahead of their peers. University isn’t all work and no play – it’s a transition from school to the working world hence the progressively bigger workload.

    And your belief that tripling tuition fees will be a good thing in order to get rid of lay abouts is simply preposterous. When these fee rises do come in, uni park campus will still be riddled with ‘students’ cruising around in their mini coopers after a night out on the ‘lash’ with their karni peers and skipping seminars on a Friday in order to pop back to Muswell Hill and spend a long weekend wooing Daddy’s bank account. Consequence? They’ll end up with a 2:2 – but don’t worry! Mummy’s contacts will ensure they land in an esteemed graduate job.

    The people that these fee rises will hit, are precisely the people that had to fight tooth and nail to get here in the first place and, these exact same people appreciate how important their place is. These people are the disadvantaged that had to work against the odds to reach Nottingham. The fee rises wont make a difference whatsoever to the many students coasting along on Daddy’s bank account who enjoy university for the “life experience”. The tripling of fees will simply make it harder for the disadvantaged, and might I add, your sister, to enjoy the precious education we’ve been so lucky to receive.

    My friend your article could not miss the point more.

  • Stuart Neyton
    3 November 2011 at 21:26
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    This article is not only based on huge stereotypes and (rather offensive imho) sweeping generalisations, its logic is very poorly thought out. What it seems to come down to is that you have a problem with students’ attitudes towards their degrees, and believe turning them into elitist institutions by excluding “every Tom, Dick and Harry” from higher education is the way to go. Please just admit it.

    In the past students got their HE fully funded by the state, got grants, were able to claim housing benefit (even for student halls) and could even sign on to unemployment benefit over the summer months. By your logic things would have been worse back in those days. Perhaps they were, i certainly wasn’t around, but the attitude you seem to take is incredibly selfish, and i’m not sure your sister will appreciate you penning articles in supporting the fact she’ll be paying off her student debt her entire life (unless you both have the bank of mummy and daddy to rely on, that is).

  • dan
    3 November 2011 at 23:03
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    Time to read up on Bourdieu’s cultural capital theory.

  • tom
    4 November 2011 at 11:52
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    couldn’t have said it better myself Tyler- great comment- also we all forget the years of hard work students have to put in at school to even get to university. Who could begrudge these top students a year of partying before the real work kicks in once more. And we will be working hard 9-5 jobs for nearly the rest of our lives, university is a brief bit of respite before it all starts. I think Sian you have written this article out of anger- not that it is not well written and you do raise some interesting points.

  • Kat
    4 November 2011 at 14:15
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    Good for you. Great article. I think this is a good approach to a controversial subject. Your disclaimers are important, but for students who work very hard it is frustrating to see others taking it for granted. University has become the obvious ‘next step’ and I often feel like asking people if they really want to be here. The rise in tuition fees is awful but I think you’re right, people will think twice now it is so much more expensive.
    I’m surprised at some of these comments – you only have to walk around campus to see that these stereotypes are not made out of thin air. And Tyler, the only reason Uni is seen as a transitional stage is because it’s allowed to be – there are plenty of other ways to make that transition (like a year out?) and it seems illogical to me that the first year of an academic course is used in this way.

  • Stefan
    8 November 2011 at 13:41
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    @Tyler O’Sullivan. I couldn’t agree with you more. I get so frustrated with students who spend £250 on a bottle of expensive champagne, and these are the students that won’t be affected by the tuition fee rise. £250 is essentially what I have to live off in a month!

    @Kat.Your right in saying that University should not always be seen as the “next step”. You’re also right in saying that it will make people think twice before applying. However, this doesn’t disclude the natural academics,who should go to University, but now can’t afford to. Thus, rising the tuition fees will favour the rich and only the rich, whether or not they are academically suitable.

  • Sian Boyle
    8 November 2011 at 15:43
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    Hi Everyone,

    I thought I should address some of the comments here. First of all I’d like to say thanks for reading the article in the first place, and also thanks for your opinions, which I respect. Any comment is better than no comment to me!

    [I’ll respond to everyone but it seems that on the Impact website sometimes authors will be criticised and refuted (which is fine) but end up having to repeat their argument to different people along the thread, which I’m not prepared to do.]

    @Peter- I think I addressed the key issues perfectly well. The article is entitled ‘Why the Tuition Fee Increase is a Positive Change’, and I sought (quite accurately, in my opinion) to answer this. If you were seeking an article which dealt with the myriad reasons why the tuition increase is a NEGATIVE change, then there are plenty of articles out there. I knew the article would be deliberately provocative and controversial which is why I even included within the title ‘By a Student’.

    @Tyler and @Stuart and @Tom.

    First, please allow me to copy and paste entire sections of the article which you seem to have missed:

    You seem to have missed an intrinsic point: “Admittedly, I’m playing devil’s advocate”.
    The definition of ‘devil’s advocate’ is “A person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments”, which I think I’ve achieved successfully with this article. Of course if my sister is in line for tripled tuition fees I’m angry and upset, but I wanted to explore the issues on the other side of the coin.

    “ This is obviously not a positive change, not least because funding cuts in other public spending pale in comparison to the alleged 40% of cuts to higher education budgets. The fee increase puts students from a wealthier background in a better position compared to their less advantaged counterparts and obstructs those bright students who aren’t prepared to immerse themselves in so much debt. The myriad disadvantages of the cuts to university funding notwithstanding”

    “Though some students will treat their degree like a full-time job”

    “I’ll get the article disclaimer out of the way now: of course there are thousands and thousands of students who get to university, appreciate the position they’re in and work very, very hard. And of course the difference between the party animal and the high-achiever is never black and white. But already, even without the recession, graduate jobs are few and far between because degrees are worth ten-a-penny.”

    “the classic student stereotype…is, unfortunately, not unfounded”- On your point about stereotypes- I’ve even stated specifically within the article that there is a classic student stereotype (i.e. I’ve ACKNOWLEDGED it’s a stereotype), but that in my opinion it is not unfounded. Give me the respect I deserve when I’ve stated something is a stereotype, but gone on to present my argument why I don’t think it’s unfounded. There hasn’t been any blind anger here- I feel my points are all well-balanced.

    Furthermore, these ‘stereotypes’ are all described from personal experience. If you haven’t experienced them yourself then that’s fine: remember that this is a purely opinion piece, not a factual piece, hence it being published in Features and not News. Know the difference between a person’s opinion and purported fact.

    I think some people need to take a step back, read the article again properly and also read between the lines. The bottom line of my article is that “Degrees need to be made meaningful again, not just to employers but also to students themselves.”

  • dan
    8 November 2011 at 20:04
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    @Stefan

    I thought the same thing as your Tyler reply when I saw the photo competition Impact runs. As beautiful as some of the photos are, I couldn’t help thinking they say something about the University (though I haven’t read the rules or expectations of the competition. All these photos are out of a student budget and reflective of a wider possibility those students who are concerned over fees can’t even consider.

  • Dave
    9 November 2011 at 10:51
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    As a sidenote, where has this impression come from that anybody from a wealthy family calls their parents ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’? I’m not exactly poor, but I still say ‘mom’. Maybe it’s a southern thing, more than a posh-person thing.

    Back on topic, I’m not sure to what extent the tuition fees will really change anything. Student debt is still one of the easiest debts to have, people still don’t need to pay up front, and apparently repayments will be lower under the new system than they currently are anyway. Students should spend less time getting angry about fees, and more time getting on with their degree and enjoying not only the freedom to go out, but to intellectually develop themselves. The outside world is f**king miserable by comparison.

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