The Future Cost of Education

On May 9th, Aberystwyth University was the first Welsh university to announce that, as of the academic year 2012/2013, they would be raising tuition fees to a maximum £9000 annually, matching a change in financing already decided upon by many English universities. Aberystwyth is certainly not expected to be the only university in Wales to reach this verdict, with the other Welsh institutions having to make their conclusions known to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales by the end of the month. In this sense, it could be argued that there is a certain integrity being demonstrated by Aberystwyth University in being the first to step forward and admit that these difficult economic changes must be made in order to continue providing the services students here have come to expect. It is better to know early on that the students who will be arriving here in September 2012 could be paying nearly triple the amount current students do for their course than to leave an inevitable conclusion hanging.

Despite this, it is the negative implications that make themselves immediately obvious. £9000 a year adds up to total £27,000 for a three year undergraduate course. This is the highest amount anyone could be expected to pay based upon current funding legislation and is a massive amount for anyone to have to pay back with students to likely still be in student debt well into their forties. This is a lot to take in considering prior to the formation of the current coalition government we were promised that tuition fees would not top £6000.

These figures are going to have huge implications in the minds of those people now considering entering university from the year 2012 onwards. £27,000 is an immense sum of money to be looming over the head of any teenager, whose bank account has probably never seen a five figure number before, wanting to further their education in the UK. Of course, present suggestion by the Welsh Assembly Government says that students residential in Wales will be subsidised just over £5000 if their course does cost £9000, with the student themselves having to pay no more than £3,375, even if they do study outside of Wales. However, this tactic is non-means tested and could cost the Government up to £309 million per annum, so we begin to question just how feasible and long-term such a strategy could be. This figure doesn’t even take into account the costs of subsidising International students, as the Government has also pledged to do.

This may seem like a huge ‘in-your-face’ for Welsh students to be giving their fellow UK students, but is it really such a good thing? It could be argued that places may be harder to come by for Welsh students; the fewer Welsh students Welsh universities offer places to, the less pressure on the Government to pay out when they could be filling up spaces with English students who are paying out of their own future pockets. This is, of course, just a thought and hopefully not an unwritten financial policy soon to be adopted by acceptance staff. The same argument could be proposed in reference to subsidised International students. On the other hand, subsidised learning in Wales could prove highly appealing to those outside of the UK looking to study abroad and such interest could boost Aberystwyth’s reputation on a global level, a definite positive for the University.

Furthermore, new government proposals, this time coming from Universities Minister David Willetts, that prospective students from rich families could effectively ‘buy’ their way into university have since been dashed by Prime Minister David Cameron. It is good to see that this scheme, possibly one of the most caricatured, Tory ideas to have come out of this government so far, has been so quickly dismissed, but I can’t help but wonder what they may come up with next. ‘Social mobility’ is the big buzzword of the moment and indeed in raising tuition fees Aberystwyth has pledged that a part of 30% ‘of the revenue above a level of £4000 be used to further the goals of widening participation’. Class issues have always been a focal sore point with regards to higher education and Willett’s proposal, alongside it’s perhaps slightly patronizing ideas of sponsorship for those of lower incomes, would likely not have improved the situation.

It would be selfish to say that we, as students of the University who began our studies prior to this pronouncement, don’t care. It is important to consider the future of our institution. We may not be happy to see such a decision come to affect the potential students of Aberystwyth, but we can do our bit in an attempt to make sure that this extra income is being spent in the right places. It is up to us to determine that our student experience is worth the price we and others will come to pay for it and to take all that we can from the benefit of further education. This new cash flow is entering the University under the heading of ‘tuition fees’, something we should perhaps consider when lying in bed contemplating whether to get up and go to that early lecture.

Ultimately, those that can afford to go to university will continue to do so, but we can’t predict just what affects these changes will have on Aberystwyth, or even what additional alterations to these policies can be expected further down the line. We can count ourselves lucky that we got into university when we did and also be safe in the knowledge that the situation here still isn’t quite as expensive as it is in other parts of the world.