We all may just have dodged a bullet. It is the students who are still to submit their university applications that are in the firing line. The Wessex Scene went to a local college to speak to those most likely to be affected if the tuition fee cap is discarded.
Situated on the other side of Southampton Common, Taunton’s College educates 1300 students from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, and with an A-Level pass rate in line with national averages it suggests to be a reliable source of student opinion.
Ethan, 16, attends Taunton’s College and is not only well-informed about the Browne Review but has already predicted the effect any acceptance of such measures will have on the government’s popularity. His Politics class recently conducted a ‘sweet-stake’ (a school-friendly equivalent of a money sweepstake) and Ethan’s bet is on the Coalition collapsing by next July.
His Politics class is doing more than just gambling though and will be joining thousands of students at the NUS demonstration in London on the 10th of November to protest against higher fees and proposed funding cuts. “30 000 pounds of debt is pretty mental for someone in their twenties” Ethan claimed. “It will also definitely make universities more elitist.”
Ethan and his classmates are clearly involved in student politics but not all those questioned were as aware of the financial threat they may soon be facing. Roughly half had not heard of the Browne Review and some were entirely unaware that any funding cuts or fee increases were even under discussion. It has to be said though that this partial unfamiliarity may well be indicative of the general public’s current level of awareness and it certainly does not reflect widespread apathy.
Indeed, students at Taunton’s College do care about the topic and the word “stupid” was used by many to describe the situation they look set to become a victim of – “frustrating” being offered by one student to sum up her feelings.
A pattern began to emerge as more were interviewed. Almost all were worried that higher fees would put people off applying to university because Higher Education was looking increasingly expensive and inaccessible. Yet, when asked if they themselves would still apply for university, the answer was a resounding yes. Almost none of the students questioned would be deterred by the financial burden.
“I want to study Medicine” said 17-year-old Muhammad. “Now I may have to examine a Pharmacy course but I will still definitely go to University. A degree is just essential nowadays.” His friends, Betsy and Pooja, agreed and also said that even if they or their parents had to pay more their intention was still to get a degree. Pooja argued that “education should not be treated as a business” though it appears that it is a business young people feel they must become customers of if they are to survive in such intense competition.
When asked if they would pay more to climb the University league tables, most students replied that they would be tempted to do so. “I would rather apply for the better university, as I know I’d be getting a good degree” said A-Level student Ahmed. His friend, also called Ahmed, said that though he thinks tuition fees are too much already he has already worked out which course he wants to enrol on.
A high percentage of students from Taunton’s College are hoping to study at the University of Southampton. We spoke to a group of four girls at the college, all planning to apply to study Medicine at the University. They anticipate competition to be high but said that even if it meant taking a year out to work and save money, they are determined to fulfil their ambitions.
If the sample taken from Taunton’s College are a fair representation of students nationwide, the Government and Universities will be delighted. A degree has an almost sacred status in the 21st century despite its ubiquity and young people are generally willing to pay enormous sums for it – though some intimated that their parents may be a little more cautious.
There are two major reasons for this intriguing mix of irritation and acceptance. The first is that those younger than those reading this article have looked at us and seen the large debts most of us face after graduation. A slightly bigger financial mountain to climb in their twenties and thirties may just be worth it. “You’ll face £20 000. We’ll face £30 000. There’s not much difference” one AS Level student joked.
The second reason is that some feel that decisions being made in Westminster are not within the power of a 16-year-old. “I don’t think complaining will realistically change much” said Georgi. “Degrees are still needed and we’re not in control.”
Ethan’s Politics class better shout pretty loudly on the 10th of November.