The screwed over generation?
There’s nothing I hate more than whinging students. I think we might have tarnished ourselves with ‘the boy who cried wolf’ brush, complaining just too many times about our unfair deal in life. But it feels like for once there does seem to be a pretty good reason to have a moan.
I believe my generation has been screwed over; our 20’s and 30’s will be plagued by a recession we didn’t create (having never enjoyed the glory days), worrying about a changing climate and fighting a ‘war on terror’ with half the world.
On Tuesday I spent the day following the story of Lord Browne’s review on tuition fees. As a student journalist I was lucky enough to have access to the man who seems to have centered himself (in the media’s eyes) at the heart of the debate on the future of Higher Education funding: Chair of the Russell Group and Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University, Michael Arthur.
In the morning I heard him welcome the review’s recommendations, and yet surrounding me were students, staff from Leeds University Union, members of the UCU, and even Jon Snow (in Leeds to film the Channel 4 News live from the university’s refectory) worried about what such a hefty rise in fees would mean for the future generation: How will it affect access to university? Will the Lib Dems betray their student voters (seemingly likely)? And will it contribute to the widening gap in society?
But the one question that plagued me all day was: Is a degree really worth it anymore?
My parents come from a generation where going to university was a relatively rare thing to do. Having a degree opened doors and virtually guaranteed you a job. Until a couple of years ago I was under the same impression. Then the recession hit and graduate employment sunk.
I miss those days of naivety when I believed that having a degree from the University of Leeds would give me the right to a good job. That confidence has been replaced with an impending sense of doom
Now in my final year I worry every day about finishing my degree next year and being unemployed, or moving back to my home town and resigning myself to a job in one of the local pubs I’ve worked in since I was 13.
In two years time new university students may well find themselves facing tuition fees averaging £6,000 a year (at Leeds Uni Michael Arthur has already said it will be more like seven or eight thousand). This is for the same education that I receive at £3,290 a year, the same education my brother received at £1,250 just a few years earlier. They’ll be graduating with debts of around £38,000 and will still be in the same position as me: terrified of unemployment
Most people I know who graduated this summer are yet to find a job and now plan on furthering their education, further. They’re looking at Masters, medical degrees, and business courses – getting themselves deeper and deeper into the red.
If the recession taught us anything it’s that living beyond our means and racking up debt is not realistic in the long-term. Surely the new system of fees would encourage a generation of young people into an “I’ll pay it back later” mentality? Have we learnt nothing?
The problem is that there is no obvious solution. Higher Education funding from the government is expected to be cut by 79%; this money has to be replaced. But should this financial burden really fall wholly on young people?
Jon Snow suggested that an alternative would be for businesses and banks (who need graduates) to pay into the system too. I agree, but still think the government shouldn’t just be throwing their hands in the air, void of all responsibility when they need graduates such as Doctors, Social Workers, Nurses…
And what about those professions, essential to our society, that require a degree but return a relatively small wage? Who will want to become a teacher when they’ll be facing a debt of over £40,000 to become qualified, with an average salary of around £25,000 a year?
It seems to me that there are too many people at university today. Many have merely taken the next step in education for lack of anything better to do, studying pointless degrees in order to have ‘the experience’ and flooding the employment market with graduates. Perhaps the answer is for Higher Education to revert back to its more elitist days, but this time for the academic, not the economic, elite.