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There seems to be little that the coalition government hasn’t done recently to make current and potential students lives harder: funding to Universities has been cut dramatically, and the fees are set to soar to £9000 across the country in September 2012. Add to that, the record levels of youth unemployment and the ever increasing demand for University places, and you can understand why students are protesting in the streets. Not only will this increase in fees saddle new graduates with an excessive amount of debt, it has also had the additional knock on effect of preventing prospective students from taking a Gap Year. A recent article in the Independent reported that Gap Year companies are experiencing a drop in the number of school leaver applicants, as many are opting to start University as soon as they leave school, in order to avoid paying the increased fees. When top-up fees were introduced in 2006, a waiver was implemented, meaning that those who had taken a Gap Year in 2005 were exempt from paying the increase in fees. However, no such waiver will be introduced now, meaning that those school leavers who would like to take a Gap Year, but do not want to pay the new increased fees, are being forced to attend University a year earlier than they would have liked, and are missing out on the valuable opportunities that a Gap Year can offer.
While it is understandable that students would chose to sacrifice this chance to have a Gap Year in order to avoid paying the new extortionate fees, it is unfair that this year of school leavers should have to miss out on all the experiences that a Gap Year offers. Not only does a Gap Year give you the chance to travel, gain work experience in your chosen field, volunteer, amongst numerous other possibilities, it also allows you to be completely independent. When I took my Gap Year, I spent 9 months of it working in a school office, saving up my wages to go travelling. Although not the most exciting work imaginable, it did allow me to understand and experience the responsibilities and pressures that come with a real 9-5 job. I then spent 3 months backpacking around Europe with one of my friends. I got to travel to cities and countries that I had always wanted to go to, but never previously had either the money, or the time to visit. Travelling either alone, or with a companion, for a long period of time, is an incredible experience. You learn how to stand on your own two feet and, although it sounds contrived, you learn more about yourself as a person; how you cope with certain situations when there is no one there to help or manage the circumstances for you.
Prior to my Gap Year, I had never been away from home for longer than 2 weeks, so spending 3 months living out of a rucksack and relying on my common sense to make sure I was safe and always had somewhere to stay, and something to eat, was an experience that not only gave me more confidence in my own abilities, but also prepared me for the independence that comes with attending University. I learnt how to manage my money when I was travelling, which is a skill that is always required not only at University, but in life. I also met some amazing people, saw some spectacular sites, and had a whole load of fun while I was doing it. However, if I was placed in the position where I had to choose between having a Gap Year or paying £9000 a year to attend University, I would, like the majority of school leavers appear to be doing, choose to go to University and avoid paying the increased fees. It is grossly unfair that due to the ridiculous increase in tuition fees this year of school leavers is going to miss out on the chance to experience all the fantastic opportunities that a Gap Year offers.