The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Sandy Dhaliwal Headshot

Higher Fees: Will They Make A Difference?

Posted: Updated:

Whilst studying at Bournemouth University in the early noughties, I decided after my first year that I didn't want to become one of those people who worked on their degree and then got drunk the rest of the time.

So during the four years of my Communication and Media degree, well technically three, as I did a year of Multi-Media Journalism initially - but switched after realising I only actually enjoyed the feature writing module and I had spent far too much of my first year getting drunk - I tried to be involved with as many things that I could possibly fit in, without failing my course! This included writing for the student magazine and serving as the elected Arts and Entertainment Officer at my student union.

I took my role as officer very seriously, as I felt that it was my job to represent my fellow students' views. During my time there I got involved in student activism. In 2003 student unions across the country joined us through the streets of Bournemouth in mass demonstration against the introduction of top-up fees.

We devised a funeral theme and got everyone to dress in black while we mourned the death of education. Our antics, which included our Vice President dressing as the grim reaper, 'pall bearers' carrying a coffin and my creative and maybe borderline defamatory plaque card branding got us coverage in the likes of The Guardian and The Times Higher. With the success of the first protest under our belts, we joined forces with the NUS later that year and many other universities in a similar demonstration in London, though this time we left the coffin at home!

While we may not have been successful in preventing the bill coming into fruition then, it cannot be said that we didn't give it an impassioned effort. The same can be said for the thwarted students who have been fighting the introduction of uncapped university tuition fees over the last two years.

The rise in fees means that universities are able to charge students up to £9,000 per year in tuition fees. Universities wanting to charge more than £6,000 however will have to offer bursaries, summer schools and outreach programmes to encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply also.

Universities charging the maximum include Bath, Cambridge, Cardiff, Exeter, London Metropolitan, Westminster and Oxford. This will mean a student undertaking a three-year course at £9,000 a year, with the addition of maintenance loans, could leave university with up to £43,000 of debt.

Kiran Brar is a 17-year-old A Level student from Uxbridge, who will be applying for university next year to study either English or Business. She feels that the rising fees are a big worry for her and even puts her off the idea of university altogether.

She said: "I think the fees will affect me quite a lot as I will be in debt for a longer time. It puts me a bit off the idea of going as I'm not even sure what I want to do yet, so if I pick the wrong thing it will be a waste of time and money."

It won't be until September of this year that the fee rise will come into effect, but the decision passed by the coalition government in 2010 resulted in a rapid increase of school leavers applying to university last year in order to escape those heightened charges. It also meant that a large proportion of students gave up the chance to defer their applications in order to take part in a gap year.

STA Travel group managing director John Constable told the Student Times that he believed that this could be attributed to the introduction of the rising fees.

He said: "For many young people, 2012 will be their 'year of travel' as they re-evaluate future plans."

John explained that last year the average age of an STA customer was 23 years old, but he expected this to drop this year with many young people opting to travel and gain work experience in favour of paying the rising fees to study.

He added: "Young people have used travel to broaden their horizons for many years, however this avenue has become more formalised with many young people incorporating some sort of skill and CV-boosting activity while they're away."

UCAS reported last week that just over 50,000 fewer students have applied for this September's university intake compared with last year. That means the total number of applications to universities has dropped by 7.7 per cent. There has also been an 8.9 per cent decrease of UK students applying to universities altogether. In addition to that, applications from overseas students were down 1.3 per cent from last year.

UCAS' findings also indicated that the number of 18 year olds applying to university had dropped by 3.7 per cent compared with last year. That is a decrease of 8,765 applications. Though the biggest decrease by age group has been for 19 year olds, who are down 18,420 applications from last year.

However not all universities have experienced a drop, including the University of West London. They reported earlier this year a rise of 19 per cent in student applications compared to last year. Also they will not be charging the maximum in tuition fees this September. To study on most UWL courses, the tuition fee will be £7,500 a year.

The rise in their applications has been attributed to a number of factors including the university's re-branding from Thames Valley University to the University of West London; arguably giving the institution a fresh start and renewed interest. It might have also helped that this university is now climbing the Guardian's ratings too.

UCAS have argued however that the drop in numbers may be down to a higher proportion of people accepting places in the previous year. But they do admit that their report reveals that young people from more disadvantaged areas and backgrounds will be almost three times less likely to apply to university compared to richer peers.

To help counteract this, the government have launched the National Scholarship Programme which is designed to help students whose family's income is lower than £25,000. The scheme will commence this September with the government committing £50 million during 2012-2013, climbing to £100 - £150 million in subsequent years.

What happens over the next few months should be interesting; with A Level results looming and clearing to follow on towards the end of the summer. Will these places be filled or has these fees and the greater amount of debt posed act as too large a deterrent? For me university was an enriching experience; teaching me invaluable life and vocational skills. It would be regrettable to see so many miss out on such opportunities. However, if I were faced with this prospect as a school leaver today, I'm not totally sure what I would decide myself.