Student Experience Versus Staggering Debt


The ninth of December 2010. The date may seem unfamiliar to you at the moment, but I’m sure your spine would shudder along with any students’ if you knew that this was the day that variable tuition fees were introduced.

So-called politicians were adamant that these fees should not make a difference to university applications, but last year saw application rates fall a massive 9.3%. Although it’s clear that you are not one of these 9.3%, you  must still consider the consequences.From the day you applied to university, you sold your soul to Student Finance.

Overall, the entitlement card seems to be more of a pacifying lollipop given to a small child than anything else

But let’s not look into our debt ridden futures yet- we’re students! We can barely think ahead to our next lecture (or think at all after a couple of Jesticles) so let’s just focus on the here and now- are we getting our money’s worth?

Well firstly, there’s the Entitlement Card given by the University to consider. Yes, at first it may seem like Christmas come early, and let’s not let a gift horse in the mouth, but on closer inspection it seems a fairly insignificant attempt for redemption of the tripled tuition fees.

Yes that £300 can get you access to the gym (will you ever really use it?), course books, a platinum pass, and society memberships, but even so, is this not something we should expected regardless of the fee change?After all it is getting us to invest in university facilities. Overall, the entitlement card seems to be more of a pacifying lollipop given to a small child than anything else- it’s hardly the crucial decider when considering whether to apply.


Okay so I’m probably not convincing you that parting with this considerable amount of money was wise yet, but to give credit where it’s due, the University has taken the rise in tuition fees more seriously than me- they have also offered up to a £3000 fee waiver dependent on household income, so it would seem they do have our interests at least slightly in mind.

And what’s the alternative? Getting a job at the nearest McDonald’s and living at home until you’re thirty five years old? With a university degree you get the opportunity of spending three years living the student dream before going into a (hopefully) better career.

In fact, despite my moaning I would go so far as to boldly say that the elusively cliched ‘student experience’ is priceless. Where else could you be almost guaranteed a better paid and more satisfying career after three years of non-stop partying and freedom? I’ve only been here a month  but the nights out, freedom, people, independence, ability to focus on what interests you -and did I mention nights out?- have already meant that I’ll never look back.

We’re not just investing in our futures here; we’ve already purchased friends, memories, and the best years of our life- who said money can’t buy you happiness? Maybe the Entitlement Card isn’t exactly the answer to our financial problems, and maybe in ten years time I’ll have changed my tune on the staggering tuition fees and debt, but all I can say now is; another two years? Send me the bill student finance!



Discussion16 Comments

  1. avatar

    Sorry Kerry but variable fees were actually voted on first on the 24 January 2004. They were in fact first introduced a the beginning of the 2006 Academic year. Universities were able to charge up to £3000.

  2. avatar
    Students for Education

    Kerry, it’s great you’re enjoying University – it should be the best years of your life! But please don’t let people use that as an excuse to charge you £27,000 for the privilege. Your parents, if they went to University, would have had the same experience, but with no fees at all, and probably a grant (not a loan, a *grant*) to cover living expenses. Same for the politicians introducing the fees. University is still free in most of Europe – and the idea that you can’t have both the University experience and low fees is a very nasty lie that has somehow taken hold.

    And you’re right that no-one wants to consider the cost now, but trust me that when you graduate and start getting quarterly reminders of how much you owe – you’ll feel like crap. My bill from students finance is only for £16,000, but every time I open the envelope it reminds me of what I could do with that money if I didn’t owe it. Just image how you will feel when yours comes up owing £50,000+, rising by £100 interest a month.

    This doesn’t mean you have to be miserable, or turn into a grumpy political activist – you’re damn right to get the most out of your time here! But don’t give the people who raised these fees an easy pass either. They don’t deserve it.

    • avatar

      @Students for Education

      Kerry’s parents (if they went to university at all) would of been part of the ~15% of individuals at their age who went to University. In the lates 2000’s that figure had risen to 45%. A 300% increase! Are you seriously saying that the tax-payer should pay for all of these additional students to attend University?!

      Oh you are!

      Well that’s good cos actually the tax payer does pay for all students to attend University for free. Then when those lucky students graduate and start earning graduate salaries they make a larger contribution towards the cost of funding higher education. A Tax on gradaute earnings if you will. I mean it’s only fair that those who benefit the most from going to Uni make a larger contribution towards the costs? Or are you telling me that we should take money away from hospitals, primary schools, old age pensions so some middle class rich kids can have get pissed for three years at the expense of the taxes from our local binmen?

      Perpetuating this fallacy that students are hard done by is damaging. You should concentrate your argument on the lack of additional investment in HE and the absolutely scandalous fact that Post grads will have to pay their fees UPFRONT, with loans from commercial lenders.

      Students have it really easy, as Kerry has shown us in her detailed description of how much fun she is having. Please get your priorities straight or risk becoming an irrelevance SSfE.

      Kerry well done on expressing the opinion of the vast majority of UK undergrads. Uni life is just fine thanks.

      • avatar
        David Mendoza-Wolfson

        Propoganda, I think you make a really good point (although I do think that it’s a shame that you don’t use your name) and would love for you to write an article for us at the Scene about your views on the funding of HE so please do get in touch with me and I’ll set you up with an account…
        Personally, I agree with what you’re saying about having ‘free’ education, it is simply impossible to fund. However, saddling students with debt is no good alternative. There is a proposal called FAIR (Funding With Affordable Income-Based Repayments) which is a fully private scheme that is in many ways similar to a graduate tax…it is a completely debt-free, earnings based alternative. I actually wrote about it in the latest Wessex Scene, so you can find out more there!

        • avatar
          Students for Education

          David, I’m genuinely curious about the following:

          “Personally, I agree with what you’re saying about having ‘free’ education, it is simply impossible to fund.”

          As with Propaganda, I honestly don’t know what you mean by ‘impossible’ in this context. Obviously we could fund HE if we wanted to right?

      • avatar
        Students for Education

        “Are you seriously saying that the tax-payer should pay for all of these additional students to attend University?!”

        Yes. Again, most other countries in Europe do it. Tell me what’s so special about Britain that we can’t.

        “Or are you telling me that we should take money away from hospitals, primary schools, old age pensions”.

        No. It isn’t an either/or situation. There are other sources of taxation (mad example: Banks). Now you might have reasons to think we shouldn’t do that, but it’s disingenuous to say it’s not possible.

        “Students have it really easy”

        No-one is disputing this. This is why it’s such a clever (read: evil) policy. It’s only once students graduate (and into a stagnant economy, with fewer permanent jobs, fewer public services and higher taxes) that the £50,000 of debt will start looking very worrying indeed.

        Saying that students support oppose free HE because they are willing to pay tens of thousands of pounds for it is like saying cancer sufferers in the US oppose free healthcare because they are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for treatment. It misses the point entirely.

        • avatar

          Of course the banks… let’s just tax the banks.

          Those financial institutions that generate over £60bn in tax receipts contributing over a tenth of the nations tax income. They have a reputation for seeking out high tax, over regulated, bureaucratic countries so that they can make less money for their share holders…

          Basically our politicians are all idiots, Everyone hates bankers right?! Taxing the shit out of them would be the political equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

          Oh hold on, actually politicians aren’t idiots and taxing the shit out of bankers would mean they’d just leave to go to another country that would welcome their wealth generating capacity. Leaving the UK in an even worse financial state than it is in at the moment…

          Taxing bankers is such a lazy, populist argument. Unless the WORLD regulates the banking market, then capital will flow to the most attractive market… don’t be naive.

          • avatar
            Students for Education

            That’s fine – you’re putting up a bit of a straw man version of our argument, but at least you’re being honest about where you stand.

            Can I suggest that next time you want to say something like: “we either have to raise fees or cut spending on vulnerable people”

            You actually say
            “we either have to raise fees or cut spending on vulnerable people …because I’m against raising taxes on wealthy individuals and highly profitable corporations”.

            It would save everyone a lot of time.

          • avatar

            I’m not against taxes on wealthy individuals and highly profitable corporations.

            I just believe that wealthy individuals will act in a rational manner and decide to minimise their tax liability. That may mean moving their business or wealth to another country.

            Unless their is global action on bankers, lawyers, the “1%” then someone somewhere will make it attractive for wealthy individuals to move their capital there (Monaco, UAE, Switzerland, Virgin Islands..) You can raise taxes as much as you want but in the end you need somebody to pay them…

            Your hubris as well as that of the rest of the banker bashing brigade is astounding, arrogantly presuming that the easy solution is to raise taxes on “rich people” and “corporations”.

            The only thing you are accomplishing in this debate is to add to the disgraceful rhetoric that somehow University is unaffordable. That students are “saddled” with insurmountable mountains of debt. Which people who otherwise might have considered entering HE will now choose not to.

            And for that you should be ashamed

          • avatar
            Students for Education


            All of that would be fine except for the fact that the economic evidence on tax vs. wealth-flight is very mixed. This naive laffer-curve stuff is at best a very general rule of thumb. This is also evidenced by the fact that very many (most) countries in Europe have *substantially* higher taxes on the wealthy than we do in the UK, and yet afford far better educational and welfare services than we do. Again, what’s so special about Britain here?

            Also, I admit, I just do think it’s an easy solution to raise taxes on the wealthy. Properly designed wealth taxes could raise huge amounts of money, from individuals who don’t need it, for spending on young, old and vulnerable people who do. You also (momentarily) worried about these groups a while back when it suited you.

            Also, I’ve never said anywhere that the debt is unaffordable, or that people shouldn’t attend University. I’ve simply pointed out that it’s going to be about £50,000 and that’s quite a lot of money. If you don’t think £50,000 of debt is a problem for people, you can’t possibly objecting to our talking about it.

          • avatar

            Congratulations on discovering the “Nordic model” of social utopia. I won’t bother going into the differences between economic models based on natural resources and/or manufacturing vs a service sector model. Suffice to say that “services” are more flexible and therefore much more able to relocate to more favourable environments. You can’t compare apples and pears SSfE.

            However following your logic on £50,000. Then yes I don’t think 50,000 is a lot of money to pay as a lifetime of tax contributions to HE.

            If money you pay to the government after you graduate is a “debt” then maybe we should start questioning the scale of the other debts I’m paying for….?

            When students graduate in 2015 and earn say £22,000 a year. That will mean they will be paying (per month)

            £125 a month on Welfare “debt”
            £22 a month on Defence “debt”
            £49 a month on Education “debt”
            £65 a month on Health “debt”
            £7 a month on “Higher Education debt”

            I argue that it is not wrong to ask those that benefit from Higher Education to contribute more towards the costs of HE. Higher taxes for graduates is not a bad thing.

            By your logic I’m in “debt” to the NHS for £400,000. Your innappropriate use of the word “debt” puts potential students off entering HE.

            We both loves taxes it’s just I decide to be positive about my contribution to all of government spending what you want is to be excused from a particular benefit that you receive directly. Morally bankrupt

          • avatar
            Students for Education


            Of course all economies are different (in a trivial sense), I’m just not sure why you think the Nordic/Continental economic models are radically different to the British version. You still haven’t given any reason as to why the British economy should not be able to support publicly financed higher education, whilst our friends across Europe can.

            Your also making our point about debt. The exact reason you don’t have a debt to the NHS (or the MoD) s because the cost of the NHS is drawn from *every* taxpayer (and every source of tax, i.e. businesses etc). Similarly, you don’t have to pay a higher share of tax if you use the NHS more. That’s exactly why student debt is different. It does exist as a paper debt, and it applied only to certain sections of the population (i.e. recent graduates). We can have arguments about whether that’s fair, but your analogy simply doesn’t hold water.

            No-one here is saying that graduates shouldn’t ‘pay’ for higher education out of taxation just like everyone else. That’s our exact argument! The point is that everyone should pay (billionaire non-graduates, businesses, and yes the provebial bin-men) and people’s contribution should reflect how wealthy they are, not the fact that they had the audacity to seek an education.

          • avatar

            The contribution that students will make as percentage of their graduate earnings will not cover the full cost of Higher Education. Even you know that government has already assumed that 32% of the graduate contribution will never be paid to the government (RAB charge) and HEPI argue that this shortfall may be even higher (40%).

            Of course there is also the rest of the University Economy, Government support for Quality Research (HEFCE QR), Research Council Funding (RCUK), Health and Medical Research funding (NIHR) etc… which are all fully tax funded government funding agencies that “billionaire non-graduates, businesses, and yes the provebial bin-men” all pay for, along with you, with there taxes.

            That money supports the university environment in which we all receive our education, supports the research which informs are curriculum transferring knowledge to the next generation.

            All the government has done is asked that graduates, who will contribute more as their income rises, pay a defined contribution towards the costs. (Not all the costs of HE by a very long margin). I want taxes spent on primary education, sure start, pensions and I don’t begrudge having to pay a larger proportion of my future income so that these government functions can prosper while I go to university for free.

            Student finance is so much more nuanced than “OMG i’m £50k in debt LOL how wil I eva pay it back bruv…” I just wish you’d appreciate that.

          • avatar
            Students for Education


            You’re quite right, some of the HE budget still comes from general taxation. And I applaud the compelling argument you make for keeping things this way. But again, i’m not sure how this helps you. If we can fund all of these things without cutting pensions and sure start, then it’s only a small jump to saying we could fund the teaching budget too. This undercuts all of the economic armageddon stuff you’ve brought up so far.

            The issue of fairness is where the action is, and that’s the debate people should be having. Publicly funded HE is eminently possible: the question is do we want it?. I’m glad were getting there finally.

            You actually nail most of the reasons as to why we’d want public funding yourself. Kudos. I’d be interested to know if you could offer a coherent reason as to why you think the Government investing in (say) students’ labs is self-evidently good, whilst the Government investing in students’ teaching is self-evidently excessive, but I suppose what you really mean is that you just want to see graduates make more of a contribution. Fair enough.

            But to that we’d say the most compelling form of the unfairness argument runs as such. Take the model of public funding, vs. higher fees. This is how things breakdown for some relevant actors:

            Higher fees:
            Young graduate social worker earning £21,000 for 30 years = Pays ≈ £27,000
            Young graduate consultant earning £75,000 for 30 years = pays ≈ £27,000
            Wealthy non-graduate = 0
            Bin-man = 0
            Existing graduates = 0

            Public funding:
            Young graduate social worker earning £21,000 for 30 years = Pays low rate of tax
            Young graduate consultant earning £75,000 for 30 years = Pays high rate of tax
            Wealthy non-graduate = Pays high rate of tax
            Bin-man = Pays low rate of tax
            Existing graduates = Pay rate of tax reflecting their wealth.

            To me the burden of payments looks much fairer in the second option. A social worker shouldn’t (IMO) pay as much tax for education as a wealthy financier. And in the rarer cases of wealthy people who didn’t attend university (either because they inherit wealth, or ‘bootstrap’ it) I’m comfortable with their paying for a social good which benefits them economically. And also, and crucially, the millions of people who have *already* benefited from publicly funded HE also pay something under this model. Whatever justification you offer for charging young people today has to apply to them too.

            The bin-man pays more, yes, but their lower tax rate reflects their lower income, and also, I don’t like the idea that neither they nor anyone in their immediate family ought aspire to go to University. So given the benefits in fairness present elsewhere I’m happy to say the public funding model is justified overall. And if you really care about low-income non-graduates – don’t change the whole HE funding system – give low-income workers tax credits to cover the cost of HE! You could get me onside with that anyday.

  3. avatar

    The McDonald’s stereotype really hacks me off. Interesting fact – the current CEO of McDonald’s UK started off working instore and I’d quite like her wages…

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