To top-up or not to top-up?

Not always, but sometimes, I can't resist commenting on 'hot' topics. (I probably should.) I did it for the UK General Election 2010 and today I'm going to blog my tuppence about the protest over the introduction of student top-up fees.

People are angry because the current government want to increase fees to potentially £9,000, though it's likely fees will be around £6,000 (bet the Americans wish fees were this cheap in the States! For the record, Harvard charges $35,568 a year). Those who take out student loans would start paying back these once they earn £21k, with various tiered interest rates applied to the loan amount (again, salary dependent). Because of riots happening on Millbank, a peaceful protest about this has overshadowed the reasons behind the protest.

I deliberately said "people are angry because the current government want to increase fees" because the trouble started with the past government. See, someone had the clever idea that they wanted to get 50% of young people into Higher Education. It all went a bit tits up when that recession hit in 2007. What goes up, must come down - the trouble with an intense graduate labour market, coupled with external factors like the recession, means a rift now exists. The rift is that graduates can't get 'graduate' jobs, with graduate unemployment now at its highest in 17 years. The market is over-saturated with people who have degrees but very little else to offer.

This has to make you stop and think: Is a degree really worth it, especially if you have to pay £6-9k on tuition alone to get a piece of paper that everyone else has? And yes, I'm generalising. There are some amazing students out there who work hard, achieve and do amazing non-degree activities whilst they are studying, but if you're not making yourself stand out in a vast crowd, do you think university is worth it? Really?

The problem is that for the past 13 years we've been told that we want young people in Higher Education. But if Higher Education was a right, there would be a law saying you have to stay on in education until 21/22 (country dependent). It's not a right, and it's not a necessity. As with anything in life, attitude is key. Look at Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Roman Abramovich. Richard Branson. Phillip Green. All billionaires, all without that piece of paper. (And by the by, all men - I couldn't think of any women. Shameful!)

Arguments about tuition fees include that the increase will stop the 'working class' from being able to afford to go to university. That's like saying you can only start a business if you have money to begin with. Higher Education is not a right, it's an investment. And do you know what, there will always be people in this world that are richer than you, just as there will also be people who are poorer. If someone feels that they need to go to university to achieve their x, y or z ambitions, then it doesn't matter if the fees are 90p, £9k or £90k - they will take that risk and go. Just like someone with no capital will go to a bank for a start-up loan for their fabulous business idea. It's because they believe in their idea that they're willing to take that risk and pay out the hard cash in the hope that one day they'll make a pretty return - a degree is no different to this. It's not a guarantee of success, that boils down to the individual at the end of the day.

For those who want to go to university that badly, the fees will not deter them – they’ll see the fees as a mere stepping stone to get them across that pond. These are the people who will go on to achieve because they can see the bigger picture. But, we're all different - we all have different ponds and approaches to life. What I'm trying to say is, here's to all those people out there who want to be ambitious and successful, degree or no degree. I applaud you because you're willing to take that risk, see the bigger picture and strive for greatness. It shouldn't be a matter of an individual's money, it's a matter of an individual's attitude. That is all.

1 comment

  1. We were having an animated conversation in the office yesterday about this very subject.

    There was a time that if you worked hard and got good O level / GCSE grades then you got to go to college. If you worked hard at college and got good enough grades then you got to go to university.

    In the past decade that has shifted considerably. Polytechnics have been re-branded to universities, anybody can go to university and get a degree. The value of that piece of paper has been hugely undermined, yet the costs for supplying it to everybody who wants one have grown immeasurably.

    Gong to university should not be a right, it should be a privilege for those who deserve to go. It should always be that way in my view.

    (Perp, who didn't go to university himself)