“You’re going to spend the rest of your life paying off that debt”
If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard this said about the increased tuition fees, I might actually have enough money to pay for them. Young people applying to university after the cap on tuition fees in England was tripled to £9,000 per year in 2010 are constantly reminded that this debt, which may be worth well over £40,000 by the time they graduate, is not going to go away overnight. In fact, the BBC News Student finance calculator tells me that as an applicant hoping to do an arts degree and become a teacher, I won’t be free of my £36,346 debt until I am 48, when the government will perform the small mercy of writing off the remainder of the outstanding balance.
What does this say to young people?
The prospect of owing multiple thousands of pounds until I am almost 50 feels unbelievable – I have never owed more than about £10 or spent more than £100 on one thing. Leaving home and going to university is supposed to bring about financial awareness and increased responsibility, but there is a difference between understanding how to manage money and understanding how to live with such a debt hanging over your head. After 15 years of assurances that a place at university will be my reward for lots of hard work, determination and having a desire to succeed, the confusion of being told that I will now have to spend the next thirty years paying for this privilege is all too real.
My generation, ‘Generation Y’, born between 1980 and 2000, are well aware that we will have to pay for the mistakes of our parents and grandparents (again, if I had a pound…), but it has never been so clear to me as it is now, trying to apply to university while hearing countless adults tell me that in their day, they left with no debt and yet they apparently got a better education than the one which I will receive.
However, the generation which will face this increase in fees are not unused to being the guinea pigs for societal change which we have no say in. We may have grown up with swiftly advancing technology and the rapid economic growth which came alongside it, but we also have a far greater understanding of the competition we will face because of globalization than any generation before us. In today’s world, having a degree is probably more important than it has ever been before, so you can see why – despite David Cameron’s assurances at the time that the increase was ‘sustainable, competitive and fair’ and made in the interests of future generations – the protests after the announcement and the decrease of 15,000 in university applications last year suggest that the youth of Britain are very angry with this decision, the government in general, and the previous generations who have caused the problems we now face. On top of this, we have not been given any protection from the danger that fees might just keep going up in the future.
Lack of choices
Such high fees deprive us of the chance to make mistakes. Being lumbered with such huge student debts means we get one chance to make the right decision about where we study, or the enormous amount of money spent on it will be wasted. Then once we’ve graduated the expected average age for paying back the debt in its entirety is 50, and for people earning just above the repayment threshold of £21,000, handing an extra 9% of everything they earn above this figure to the Student Loans Company will be a significant burden.
Knowing that I will be charged such high fees has made me question whether a degree is still worth it. The prospect of going to university is exciting (although the application process is already stressful enough without fees and loans to deal with) and a degree is obviously beneficial, but is it worth £36,346? For the first time, I’m unsure. I feel that my generation has been reduced to statistics and complaints and test subjects too many times; I didn’t vote for the current government, I have no say in the laws it passes, and I feel let down by it.
This goes beyond tuition fees- in a society changing as quickly as the one we live in, the first concern of the governing body should be the future and future generations, but it feels like my generation has been cast as hoodies and internet-dependent texting addicts, uninterested in the political world and destined for lives of dull jobs and increasing isolation from society, and left to work things out for ourselves. I do not want to be in debt for the majority of my working life just because the government says this is now what it costs to go to university- my generation will have far more important issues to face than our tuition fees; issues which should have been addressed by the generations before us.