Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend.

Just over five years ago, I was heading off to university for the first time. If I’m being honest, I hadn’t given it that much thought. Some had been dreaming of going away to uni for years. Others had a job that they were desperate to do and they had to have the academic qualifications to get there. Me? I took everything one day at a time and hadn’t considered uni until I got to sixth form really. I applied (more because everyone was, rather than out of great want.) What was I to study? I wanted to study English, but fearing I wouldn’t be good enough, I applied to do Sociology, which had a much lower entrance grade.

I think to do English at Reading, I would have needed BBB, whereas for Sociology, I only needed BCC. Needless to say, I got the necessary grades to study English anyway. I studied English and Sociology in my first year and after my exams, I decided that English was the choice for me.

How did I chose what university to study at? Well, I knew I wanted to stay at home. This wasn’t because I was shy or scared  to leave home, but it was a selfish desire to have my metaphorical cake and eat it. I didn’t want to give my horses up for three years. If I lived away at university, then I couldn’t have afforded to do that and keep my horses. Simples as the meerkats say.

I wasn’t too sure whether university was the right option for me, so I planned to defer for a year to see how I felt. It was simply the threats about the hikes in tuition fees that sent me to uni so quickly. When we went, it cost £1050 a year. The year after us, paid around £3000. I couldn’t afford to pay £3000 a year, let alone the £9000 a year that is being threatened now. I left university with about £10,000 worth of debt. I had around half of that money sitting in an ISA, but as it was an interest free loan, I used it to buy a (nearly) brand new car. With pink flowers on.

It’s quite scary that I am 23 years old, have no house or anything of great ownership to speak of, but I have a £10k debt. Yet, one of the girls I work with, did not go to uni and at 21, she has bought her first house and is getting married in four months. I’m not saying that I should have done that, but I have achieved nothing compared to her, which is most unfair.

It’s difficult to say whether going to university has helped me in the world of work. I’m not sure I would have got the job I’ve got as my first job, without the aid of a degree, but I would have had three years of income to build up to it. Regardless of that, I loved my three years at uni and without it, I feel that I would be a very different person.

So where does my experience fit in with the current student protests? I don’t think the education I received was worthy of paying £9000 a year. For those not familiar with the university calendar; the year is made up of three ten week terms. Each term has one “reading week”, which has no lectures or seminars to allow you to complete your assigned essays. You rarely had lectures or seminars in the final week of term either. Then, the summer term was mainly made up of revision time and exams. So in my first year, I had a pretty full on schedule, with at least three or four hours of contact time a day. But by the second year, that had dropped to 3 lecture hours and 3 seminar hours a week. And by my final year, I had a couple of 2 hour seminars a week. Now I don’t want to sound fussy, but is 8 hours of contact time a term really worth £9000? That means that every hour long seminar in my final year was worth about £600. Absolutely absurd.

I find it deeply upsetting that the politicians that are bringing about these changes were all educated in the countries finest universities without paying a single penny. In fact, a lot of them were given grants to go. And now they are pulling up the rope ladder behind them. It’s disgusting. I have thought about this all week, trying to work out why it changed so much and I think I finally have the answer. The Labour Party has spent the last ten years encouraging absolutely everybody to go to university, which has not only devalued the degree but also means that the country can no longer afford to pay for all of the futures doctors, nurses and lawyers.

The problem I see with the huge hike in tuition fees is that you are just as likely to put off the future doctors and lawyers as you are those who are studying for the sake of studying. I don’t have a perfect solution and I don’t know what to do for the best, but I think you have to distinguish between those studying for a vocation and those not. We are always complaining that we are perilously low in teachers, doctors and other key skills. So why not make their fees lower? Or offer generous grants? After all, they are going to be contributing enormously to the economy.

Having said all this, the loan repayments are taken out of your pay before you even see it and you pay so little back each month, that you will never really notice it. In fact, in 18 months of full time employment, I think I have paid off about £750. Assuming that I will have paid off £1000 by the time I hit the 2 year mark, then I will have paid off my debt in another 18 years. Then if we assume that sometime during the next 18 years, I may get married and have children, I will pause paying it back for a year or so. So, now I’ll be in my mid fifties and paying it back. Scary.

Is it worth it? Who knows. I stand by my decision to go to university, but realistically, I’m not sure it’s worth all that money. It took me a good 9 months trying to get a job when I graduated. Even for the most basic job, I would get turned down because they had chosen to take on the graduate with the years experience already. There was no way to distinguish between people as everyone seems to have a degree. It’s not what it used to be. Perhaps the government need to work harder on introducing more vocational and training courses, without trying to get everyone to go through the university system. That way, prospective employers can begin to distinguish between candidates once more.

I’m not even going to start on the rent -a- mob and the violent protests that are going on. I respect what they are trying to achieve, but you won’t get your own way by throwing your toys out of the pram.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Catherine McGahey
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 11:28:57

    Yes, yes and yes again! Absolutely spot on!

    Interesting about the three 10-week terms. We had 2x 12-weeks and I’d always assumed that was generic across all universities. I wonder how much more disparity there is, and whether anyone will factor that in to the prices being bandied about…

    Reply

  2. danielle
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 12:56:55

    I finished my degree this year, and I really get what you said about your friends that started working straight away, and now they own homes, all I have to own is debt! 🙂
    Anyway I still wouldn’t have traded my years at varsity!

    Reply

  3. Grace
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 13:07:17

    There needs to be distinctions between low-cost degrees like English, and degrees that require use of more expensive resources such as computing, cybernetics, physics, chemistry etc.
    I do agree with you though – I didn’t think about it before but what we realistically received in terms of contact hours from the university doesn’t seem worth £3000/year let alone £9000!

    The government has pretty much done a u-turn on education, and that sucks. Since the UK has little industry to speak of, it had been the intention of the labour government to turn the UK into a knowledge-based economy. Simply, we would make our money from education, research and development. In order for that to happen, naturally you need educated people, thus their desire for a large proportion of the population to be university-educated.
    Of course this brings a whole batch of problems (the devalued degree you spoke of etc.) but at least there was a general direction in mind.
    Now it seems we don’t know what we’re doing or where we’re going any more.

    I do agree that it isn’t necessary for so many people to go to university – but at the same time I don’t think that it should be MONEY which is the deciding factor for who goes and who doesn’t. An easier system would be to make entrance requirements to university stricter/higher so as to attract only the best academic souls into the realms of pure research+development, and promote vocational-based training for the rest of us.

    Still, this has been handled most chaotically. We should kick this clown-government out straight up. I mean – who voted this ridiculous coalition government in in the first place? Oh yeah – NO ONE. Our democracy was just usurped – awesome.

    Reply

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