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We’ve barely been back at university for five minutes, and already the bank balance is looking a little grim. That annoying minus sign doesn’t appear to be going away, and the frightening memory of how much a block of cheese costs is all coming back to you. But now, on top of this, some clever Lord somewhere down in London has decided that in fact students have got it all too easy, and in an influential review has recommended changes to our higher education system that look rather bleak. The removal of the tuition fee cap, higher fees for elite subjects, and a rise in debt alongside the rise of inflation are just some of the proposals he’s put forward.
To determine how these changes might affect us and futures generations of Lancaster graduates, SCAN has been in touch with some Lancaster alumni to see how they’re coping with their own student debt, and their own opinions on Lord Browne’s review.
Sam Willis studied history and graduated from Lancaster in 2008. He believes that if these recommendations were in place when he went to university, the History department may not have had him as a student. “I enjoyed my time at university and I learnt a lot” he says, “however, if the fees do raise beyond the top estimates then I’m not sure I would have studied history, I’d have had to have picked a subject likely to gain me better paid employment to pay off my higher debt.” Sam also points out how this will affect students from less privileged backgrounds. “Richer students are favoured in these plans as they will be more able to study the expensive degrees, such as the sciences and law, that lead to higher paid work. In the long run this will just favour a self-perpetuating and exclusive middle-class, reducing social mobility.”
Once again the people making big decisions for students are so far removed for our own situations and for many it grates that those who are proposing these plans came from a generation that paid no fees and got grants to go to university. “The fact that the vast majority of these people attended higher education suggests a degree is of some importance in reaching the top of society,” argues Sam. “By implementing these plans they could potentially stop thousands of students from some day reaching the same position that they’re now in.”
Simon Butcher, an English Literature graduate also feels these proposals are damaging for students. If tuition fees had been raised when Simon was planning on going to university he says it may have stopped him carrying on his education. “I’m from a low income background, having to pay more without government subsidies would have been an unviable option. Demand for places will decrease as people like me simply won’t be able to go to uni, and a number of universities will close. Humanities and arts will suffer most as they have a less practical basis.”
Simon also expresses his concerns over the bias against working class students. “I feel this will further increase class divisions in society, as elite universities are already largely inaccessible to those who have not previously paid for education before university. People will no longer choose their choice of University according to their grades, but to their bank balance. Many intelligent candidates may be forced to settle for a worse university.”
These graduates speaking to SCAN have both found themselves in almost £15,000 worth of debt. Although the current situation means that this debt is not greatly affecting their lives after university, imagine if you managed to rack up the same amount of debt in less than half the time. Would you still have arrived on your first day in Lancaster fresh faced and ready for you future? Or would you be sitting at home trying to find a job never having known the delights of the Sugarhouse or, heaven forbid, the wonder that is the Carleton? Now that just doesn’t bear thinking about…