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.