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      Volume 12 |Issue 04| January 25, 2013 |


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Straight Talk

In Pursuit of an Education

Protesting hikes in university fees in UK.

A wise woman once told me that an education was the best gift you could give your children. These words of wisdom given to me by my mother, has over the years become firmly embedded in my mind and unsurprisingly I have passed this mantra onto my children. Not only is education a gift, it is also an investment of sorts for our children as it paves the way for what we can only hope is a better future.

Education, more specifically higher education has been quite a hot topic in the UK especially over the last few years. There has been a hue and cry regarding the increased university fees in England which came into place in 2012. Tuition fees have risen significantly. Prior to 2012, students were paying approximately £3,000 a year instead of the current fee which can go up to £9,000 a year. This does not even take into account the cost of accommodation, travel, food etc. Although the fees do not have to be paid off immediately and can be given in the form of a student loan, one can leave university with a debt of not just £27,000 but almost £50,000. A hefty debt and poor job prospects due to the economic climate can be quite a daunting thought for someone starting up in life.

Advocates of the increase in the university fees suggest that this is a way of identifying and attracting the more serious contenders that are applying for higher studies. Basically you have to have fire in your belly to want to go to university! Also the student loan is the cheapest form of financing available today incurring a zero rate of interest and only payable if and when a candidate has graduated and is in employment and earning £21,000 or above per annum. There is no requirement to pay off large sums at any given time and each month 9 percent of income is automatically deducted in the same manner as a tax deduction.

In the UK, the increased fees are only applicable to students hailing from England. So far Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not introduced the higher fees for their home students. Scottish students or those candidates from the EU, Wales and Northern Ireland studying in Scotland do not pay any fees and in Wales the Welsh Assembly has said “it will pay fees above £3,465 for Welsh students attending UK institutions. Fees for students from Northern Ireland are also capped at £3,465” (Guardian). The hardest hit, are students from England who have to pay the higher fee regardless of where they apply in the UK.

According to the Independent Commission for Fees, there were 15,000 fewer applicants in 2012 as compared to 2010. Some people feel that this decrease is a cause for concern and may become a trend in the coming years. Others fear that students will choose courses that they feel will the yield the best prospects for employment and some undergraduate degree courses will become oversubscribed and other subjects may be disregarded. Rather than choosing a subject that they are good at or enjoy, university candidates will opt for a more utilitarian option. There was also a worry that people from poorer families would be deterred by the hiked up fees but the report by the Commission found to the contrary “that there does not seem to be a disproportionate impact on poorer or less advantaged communities.”

Zoe Green from London, says that despite the increased tuition fees, she is hoping to apply for a university place in 2013 as she feels that at the end of the day the qualification she receives upon graduation will put her in good stead for getting a better job.

This increase in the tuition cost in England may be resultant in diluting some peoples aspirations for a higher education and the burden of debt may just not be worth it to them others may be undeterred. As such, people from developing countries overcome extreme financial hardship and adversity to give their children an education to give them a head start in life.

Meenakshy, currently a cleaner in London said that she had spent years working in Qatar as domestic help in a household to earn enough money to be in a position to send both her son and daughter to school and then onto university. To her consternation, her son only completed his studies up to class nine and lives and works in India as a rickshaw puller. Her daughter, however, completed her studies and even though she got married and has three children, managed to come to London and has now opened a little restaurant and catering business. According to Meenakshy this would not have been even remotely possible if her daughter had not gained the qualifications that she believes are paramount especially if you want to make something of yourself and succeed in life.

Hamid, a driver in Bangladesh, is of the same opinion. He invested his money in buying land in his village and also made sure his daughter completed her studies in Dhaka. He is very proud of the fact that she is the first person in his family to have a degree. He feels that this will equip her in the long run to be independent and to be able to look after herself when he is longer around. He does not want her to be beholden to her husband or in laws when she marries and to be financially secure.

Life is unpredictable where relationships come and go, money is earned or lost, and health can falter, but an education is something that once gained, you cannot lose. It is not a guarantee of a better life or future but it definitely increases the chances of one. Nowadays, regardless of where we come from or which part of society we refer to, receiving a good education or providing one has become something that we aspire to.



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