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Are degrees worth their fees?

16th November 2010

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Student fees are facing an upsurge of up to £9,000 per year, compared to the current fee of just over £3,200. The question we're left with is whether this is acceptable: after all, degrees are losing their worth as they become something everyone has, and whether it's wrong as only well-off students will be able to continue with their right to further education.


Thousands of students turned out for the largely peaceful protest against rising fees. As a student myself I was embarrassed at some of the behaviour with demonstrators storming the Conservative Party HQ. Of course, this may have been non-student political activists, but that is another debate altogether, or even wishful thinking on my part.
The violence became the centre of the media coverage, and the issue of the fees took a backseat. This behaviour has surely made the government less likely to keep the fees at their current capped price: why would they listen after they have been treated in this way?

If there had been no violence, would the protest have made front page news, or just been ignored? After all, the media enjoy sensationalising the bad and the ugly: the good doesn't get a look in. It feels like a catch 22 situation, as students could only have gone too far or not far enough to make a difference. It appears the protest caused more trouble than good, and was done in vain: the coalition government don't seem to have any plans to retract the rise in fees.
The media doesn't seem to be taking a serious approach to the problem arising. In one radio interview, a student was asked: "Do you think the government would be more willing to give funding at the capped price if they thought you weren't drinking it away?".

These journalists are making a mockery of the student stereotype. Take myself for example: I work 20 hours a week to support myself, have lectures 22 hours a week as well as trying to work in my chosen career field. I go out to socialise once or twice a week, like the majority of the students I know, as we're all too busy to do more. The stereotype of students is over ruling what people think, and it may be that this needs to change before the government can see past it and realise that not everyone is so flippant about what they do with their loans and fees.

University places are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, yet every year thousands of students graduate. If everyone has a degree, does it start to lose its worth? Personally, I wouldn't pay £9,000 per year as a degree is starting to become a rite of passage as similar to school and college: the majority have one. However, if fees do increase, there will be less graduates, meaning degrees will become desirable once more. This creates a vicious cycle for those who wish to better themselves but can't afford it. Sadly, many universities are severely in debt. If we don't raise fees to help them out of debt, there may well be no universities left to study at.

On a selfish note, this is technically good news for current graduates. The number of graduates after myself will be dwindling, meaning there will be more graduate jobs and opportunities for myself. But that is a self-centred comment to make. After all, I have a little brother aged three; how much will fees rise to when he is 18? If less people go to university, will our country have enough educated people to fulfil and replace the older generation's jobs? The change from the previous generation is astonishing. My mother's higher education was free. So what will happen for my children's futures?

The advantages and disadvantages are clear. If we continue to keep the fees at their current capped price, degrees will start to lose their worth as it becomes something everyone has, similar to GCSEs. But this does mean that everyone has the right to further themselves in higher education - and is our country not famous for our freedom? If the prices are raised then only the privileged and rich of this country are going to be able to afford to go, and not be severely in debt for the rest of their lives. But degrees may regain their stature to employers, be worth the money we pay for them, and help universities out of debt to be around for our children. What is the right decision?

How will this affect you? Teenagers are having to decide earlier and earlier what they want to do with their lives, what career path to follow. Perhaps it's time to start looking back a few generations. People got into their field of work straight after school, and learnt their way through experience and internships, through real hard graft that didn't leave them stuck in debt for the rest of their lives. They worked hard, and did well. What does a degree even mean anymore if everyone has one? University is not the be all and end all of getting a desirable job. It's the right path for some, but young people need to start researching other ways of getting a foot on the career ladder.

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