A recent conversation went something like this:
Friend: Hi Ellie, I’ve been meaning to ask you. How much money are you planning on giving your Thing#1 when he goes to uni next year?
Friend: What, really? Nothing?
Friend: But why?
Well the way I see it is this. Although I don’t agree with the changes that have taken place regarding university funding in recent years, I did what I could at the time to persuade the powers that be not to implement them – but they went ahead regardless. No, they’re not fair. Yes, I know we had a nearly – if not totally – free higher education when we were that age and yes I know we – me included – took advantage of this.
But things have changed. Our children live in an age of tuition fees – now over £9k a year, of maintenance loans which don’t actually even cover the basic costs of living in many cases, and of bank loans and overdrafts. Interest rates on student loans were initially capped at the level of inflation but recent changes now mean that the average interest rate on a student loan is 3.9%. This is higher than many mortgages.
Let’s just go over that again. Tuition fees alone for a 3 year degree are £27k. TWENTY-SEVEN THOUSAND POUNDS. Plus maintenance loans plus any other bank loans needed to keep your little darling up with the Jones’s little darlings. And all charged at a rate higher than most mortgages.
Aren’t I just the meanest mummy for not paying a big chunk of that myself?
Well, no. At least not in my opinion. Starting your life with that level of debt is just utterly crap and to be avoided at all costs.
You see, along with the funding of degrees the status of the degree has changed also. Whereas in the not too distant past having a degree was a sure-fire ticket to a better paying job, nowadays they’re ten-a-penny.
Undergraduates in my day pissed about, got drunk and did as little work as possible. When I worked as an undergraduate tutor in my local Russell group uni, it seemed things hadn’t really changed very much.
But so what. Isn’t this a unique time in their life where they can just piss about like this?
Only if you follow the pre-scripted plan for your life it is. You know, the one where you get your degree, get a well-paid job (that you stay in for 45 years), marry, buy a house and have kids, all in that order.
Nowadays we have so many more choices than before. It’s more socially acceptable to change careers, to retrain or to take a sabbatical. We don’t have this one chance and this one chance only to spend time with like-minded peers exploring our options or to mix with a range of people from outside our regular comfort zone.
To achieve the same social experiences gained at uni you could:
- Volunteer with a charity whose cause is aligned with your own world-view for a year. This could be in a city in which you would not otherwise be able to afford to live.
- You could take a TEFL-qualification and work abroad teaching English in countries such as Japan or China
- You could get a job in an environment that you find stimulating – maybe something related to your hobby, like a bookshop or a nightclub or on a ship or ……
But you’re a graduate, and a teacher, and you’re always banging on about the value of education.
Yes, this is true. But at no point have I said that the only way to receive an education is via an expensive university degree. Education means many different things to different people and at different life stages. To broaden your education you could
- Just read loads of books
- Join a night class
- Take a course online for free via FutureLearn
- Join clubs and societies and broaden your education this way. Related to this…
- Seek out educated people and talk to them – not just about the weather!
Yeah, this is all very well but actually if you want a decent job, you need a degree.
Well this depends. Imagine a room-full of nervous interviewees, your little darling amongst them. Who do you think will stand out most in the crowd? Your child with the year building and maintaining infrastructure in India, who’s completely abreast of the current affairs through their wide reading of newspapers and books and who’s confident enough to talk to anyone through the fact that they are used to discussing intellectual affairs with a range of people plus has a decent chunk of relevant work-experience under their belt…. OR little Johnny with his 2i in Humanities which he didn’t even enjoy that much?
No but seriously, you really do need a degree for some jobs.
I hear you. So let’s get imaginative. Remember, we are fighting here against committing ourselves to £27k debt as an absolute minimum so we need to really think about this.
There are a number of options you could take to avoid this crippling debt:
- You could study abroad. Many European countries, Germany and Holland included, offer free tuition. Many also teach courses in English. Be quick with this one though as, thanks to Brexit, the drawbridge is starting to lift. But crucially there is still time.
- You could get a job in a related role. If you want to be an accountant for example you could find work as an accounts clerk. If you’re good at your job, your employer may well pay for you to train to become a part- or fully-qualified accountant.
- Likewise, wannabe-lawyers can become legal secretaries, get a job then study for their degree at night school.
- There’s also the option of professional apprentiships, as covered in this recent news report.
Yeah, but the tuition loans aren’t even payable upfront and you don’t need to start paying them off until you earn over £20k
But they still need paying. And just because your debt is spread over many, many payments, it doesn’t mean you’re not paying it all back – with plenty of interest too. And as for the argument you’ll never pay them all back anyway…well isn’t this just missing the point. If you’re not following this path to further your employment prospects, whether directly through vocational study or indirectly though the soft skills uni teaches, then what exactly is the point in at all? Why set the bar so low for yourself?
But, but, but… they just wanna go. They adore their subject and can’t imagine not studying it.
This in my view is a great reason to go to uni. If you are just so in love with the subject you’re studying, if you can’t imagine your life without knowing this stuff, if you wake up every morning and leap out of bed to hit the text books and none of the options above are feasible, then yes, uni and the associated debt may well be worth it.
But if you don’t feel like this, if uni is just a socially acceptable way for your kids to put off adulting for a bit longer, are you really doing them any favours by saddling them with this massive debt?