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Will the rise in tuition fees mean fewer students at universities?

11th November 2010

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For students starting university as of 2012, the upper limit for fees will rise from £3,290 to £9,000 per year, preventing many potential students from attending university. As it is expected that half of all graduates will not be able to pay off their debt, averaging £30,000 per person, within 30 years of graduating, it begs the question: why charge them in the first place?

The government will be slashing funds for teaching at university level, seeing students pay more for less. For those for whom money is no or little object, all of this may not be a deterrent. However, universities will not be required to offer financial support to those from less wealthy backgrounds until they are charged more than £6,000, and for families on a low income, this is a huge and seemingly insurmountable sum.

Although future students from lower income families may actually be better off whilst studying than their current contemporaries, upon graduation they will still be saddled with larger debts, and this can be the hardest time of all. With jobs in short supply and parents unable to help, students from poorer backgrounds will struggle to get started in a society where it is nearly impossible for those relying on their own income to ever afford a house. A legacy of debt will deter many, as starting work will seem like a much more sensible and less daunting plan, thus perpetuating and reinforcing the class divide.

Some argue that the rise in fees will lead to only the best students attending university. Many current graduates will openly admit that they would not have studied their arts or social science courses if they were faced with similarly huge fees. However, many current law graduates are not now lawyers. Those who believe that raising fees may result in Britain producing a nation of brilliant doctors and politicians seem to forget that the government is not proposing a cut in arts courses. So rather than the brightest, will we instead still see the most affluent making an easy transition from private education to courses which some consider less valuable?

And should potential students have to choose a career at the age of 18, when school does not currently train them in making life decisions, offering instead a broad spectrum of subjects designed to mentally challenge? And if so, where is the shimmering vocational path many of our brilliant young artists and sociologists are supposed to take? Omitted from the university system, our society could be a poorer place. Having never taken a part time or casual job, some still expect the right to become a well paid graduate due to a fortunate combination of background and brains. Meanwhile, a nation of young academics opts out of the richness of university life, working to support their more wealthy counterparts. This is not about academia. It is purely a question of money.

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