The higher education funding crisis can’t be solved by a £10,000 loan.
George Osborne yesterday announced a new £10,000 per annum ‘post-graduate loan’, bringing much-needed financial support to higher education. But, with mature students more-or-less completely shoved out of the picture, Dave Cocozza argues: Was today really a win for EVERY student?
After five years of working in the corporate world of London, it’s hard to not get itchy feet when you’re in a job which you perceive has little room for growth. Two and a half years ago, I took the decision to quit my £36k-a-year job with nothing to show for it having wasted all my money on holidays, booze and fine dining, leaving nothing for me take to Kent, and became a student struggling on £7k-a-year. I still find it hard to curb my spending, but I know I made the right decision – my world has been opened up, and I am a better person for it.
Counting the number of people that I know who have been turned off the chance to study at University due to the thought of having a nine grand per year loan hanging over their heads would take more than a dozen educated hands. I even almost decided against it myself. I had the chance to study at University when I was eighteen, when the fees were just £3,500 per year – when I think about the amount of debt I’ll have once I graduate, sometime it’s hard not to wonder if I made the wrong decision to study as a mature student.
University has taught me more than my degree. It’s taught me the value of taking an active part in the politics of the world, how to make a change in my local community and how to fight for the rights of a minority. It’s taught me how to calculate a carbon footprint, how to lead a team, how to critically praise someone, how to fundraise, how to run events, how to be the chair of a committee, how to lobby an institution to change its ways. It’s taught me the value of working out whether I can afford that pint in the pub and skip my next meal. I’m the first person from my working-class family to go to University – and I receive little financial support from my retired parents who struggle to get by on their own. It’s been a steep learning curve.
Most of all, it’s taught me the value of not discriminating people and being a true believer of equality.
George Osborne’s plan to limit anyone over 30 from obtaining his new proposed £10,000 post-graduate loan completely goes against these teachings.
The majority of mature students face an incredible amount of barriers and issues during the return to education. From dealing with childcare arrangements, family issues and relationship problems, to being patronised by lecturers (“you don’t need to be in this employability talk” – well, just because I’m older doesn’t mean I can’t learn something new about being ‘employable’), to having an extreme amount of difficulty meeting other mature students at University. One more barrier that is NOT needed is the lack of access to funds for a post-graduate degree because you chose to undertake education at a later stage in life.
Whilst it could be argued that the age cap means the loans are more likely to be paid back due to a longer working life, it also forces people into a “study-now-or you-won’t-have-the-money-later” approach. Studies have shown that people are better at actively engaging in a learning process when they are ready to do it, not when they are forced to. It’s also true that a more educated civilisation is a better one, and more post-graduate study for the next generation can only be a good thing – but can someone over the age of thirty not make the same level of contribution, if perhaps more, than a younger counterpart?
I am a true believer in an open, accessible, free and financially supportive education system that welcomes students of all ages and backgrounds. I’m fed up with having to justify why missing one lecture to present a show on the radio station means more to my life than my £9k per year film degree. I’m fed up with being asked “What are you going to do when you graduate?” because it seems like I’m expected to suddenly have a life-plan that means I can pay back my tuition fee loan the day after I collect my certificate.
Across the country on Wednesday saw peaceful campus demonstrations at higher education institutions, from Warwick to UCL, and even an occupation of the Universities UK headquarters (which, by the way, Kent’s Vice-Chancellor is now the President of), by student groups demanding a more accessible and open education system. Our fellow students were met with tasers, pepper spray, and a few condemnations and arrests for their public fight for a free education system. You can bet your bottom f***ing dollar that I will be organising my own campus occupation next week in solidarity with my fellow students as I’m appalled with the brutality shown to these activists. Email me if you want to join in. Just look at the shocking images below.
I want to be able to learn about the world, understand myself better and try new experiences for just the sake of doing it while I bloody well can. A repayable loan of £10,000 a year because I’m under 30 will allow me to do this, but I’m so, so, so sorry to my fellow other mature students that they may miss out on it. I can’t apologise enough for it.
We need a post-graduate system that’s open to anyone who wants to study for it, with adequate funding for it for any age through taxation of the wealthiest few and by lousy coffee chains and cheap online retailers that actually pay their taxes. I want to sit in a seminar or lecture where there is no “average student”, but instead a complete cross-section of society. I don’t want to struggle month-after-month with an income of less than £10,000 per annum, even with three jobs.
A press release sent recently that said “NUS strongly supports the recommendations in the report that suggest that postgraduate courses should be free at the point of use, that overseas students should be removed from the net migration figures and that there should be better careers information, advice and guidance in schools and colleges.” They also issued a statement today that said “there is still certainly more to be done to make sure that post-graduate education is truly accessible, as the government’s proposals that the new loans system will only be available to students under 30 years old is deeply unfair to mature students” of which I am very pleased with.
George Osborne needs to recognise the value of education that’s open to everyone, regardless of their differences; one that allows our country to develop its world leaders from eighteen to eighty. I signed an open letter published on The Guardian’s website earlier this month supporting a free education, and I think it’s time we saw these conversations go upwards.
The new post-graduate funding system is a step in the right direction, and a welcome one from the majority. We need to move away from the consumer culture of higher education that places a greater importance on money spent than the knowledge gained.
But, there’s spiralling black hole of debt. It’s common knowledge now. The monetary crisis within higher education needs drastic action before the moment inevitably comes when we have to pay for even the paper that our congregation certificate is printed on at on our graduation.
Dave Cocozza is the Mature Students’ Officer of Kent Union, the University of Kent’s Students’ Union, and a Green Party activist.