Sunday, 6 June 2010

Money = Knowledge

University of Leeds

There has been a storm brewing for the shiny new lib-con coalition in the UK over the last couple of days. The Russell Group, which is representative of the top 20 UK universities (and which my own university is a member of) has handed in recommendations to increase student loans and adopt a more US-style system, where the most sought-after degree courses at the best universities could cost the student more than £20,000. Currently, they are saying that the fees should be raised to £9,000, and the interest rate on loans (mercifully fixed at a low point for those in higher education at the moment) be increased to allow the government to still be able to provide full grants for the poorest students.

Great. So our students will be leaving university with debt in excess of £40,000, with added interest on top. A mortgage for your brain. That is EXACTLY what we need right now, with unemployment running wild, and our country teetering on the edge of economic meltdown.

I don't even think I'd be as bothered as I am, if I hadn't read this delightful sentence on the website of The Telegraph today..."[The Russell Group] said that...middle-class graduates should make bigger contributions to fund bursary programmes for the poorest undergraduates".Seriously? I mean, I know everyone hates the middle-class. Hell, I'M middle-class, and even I hate them! The thing is, most of us ARE now middle-class, like it or loathe it, and most of us are likely to remain middle-class when we enter our post-graduate careers in teaching, scientific research, and whatever other job we manage to scramble our way into. That means that we will have to save every last penny for at least eighteen years if we have children and can afford to even put money away in the first place (which will be nearly impossible what with paying our own student debt, followed by mortages and all the other financial trappings of becoming a grown-up). What this proposal will achieve, if it is put into practice, will be to disenfranchise a generation of people on mid-level income. In a country where the aim had been publicly stated to get 50% of school pupils studying at university, this seems incredibly short-sighted and reductive.

About the only thing I did agree with in the entire proposal was that students taking different subjects should pay different levels of fees. For example, the report says that a chemistry undergraduate's course costs £14,190 to comlplete, and at the moment, the university will only receive £10,570 from that student in fees. Clearly, there is a shortfall that needs adressing. However, I study English, and I also pay £10,570 per year. Nowhere in any of the articles about this report that I have read does it state the overall cost of an English degree. Given that I buy all my own equiptment and books, have less than 10 hours of contact with a tutor per week, and that my university library has, on average, 2-3 copies of any given critical text for the use of up to 400 single and joint-honours English students, I suspect that I am being rather over-charged.

I, and my fellow arts and humanities students also have a far less certain chance of employment than, say, a medicine student, an engineer, a nurse or, indeed, the aforementioned chemist. The Russell Group report says that we should pay for our improved job prospects, so surely by that logic, those with more secure job prospects who also use far more equiptment and have far more contact hours should pay more? It seems fair, if perhaps a little distasteful.

I hope the Liberal Democrats will stick to their guns in regard to not raising the fees that sudents pay, rather than just abstaining from the vote. I would expect nothing from the Conservatives other than increase after increase, seeing as they and many of those who support them have enough cash (possibly in offshore bank accounts) to pay the fees whatever the price.

Now, back to bean-counting and scraping the last few miseable euro-cents from the bottom of my sad and empty purse...

C x

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