Since the changes to tuition fees were announced, my day to day job has largely been dominated with questions about student finance. As a Higher Education Adviser, I'm here to help and provide guidance on all aspects of university life and the choices students make, but discussions about the cost and how to pay for it are most prevalent. Many students are keen to explore all of their options and make sure they are making the right decision about their future, especially given the increased higher cost.
A lot of the students I speak to have already done their research into student finance, and have a basic idea as to the amount they will be entitled to, how the system works and what happens when it comes to paying it back. There is obviously still a job to do though, as the research to mark the second annual Student Finance Day showed that 60% of prospective students have a 'worrying misconception' about student finance. The survey also showed as many as 65% of 14-18 year olds and even 33% of those starting university this autumn admit they still don't think they understand enough about the new student finance system. So, there is clearly still a job to be done.
It's important for students to find out early what money their entitled to, and how much they'll receive per year. The job is not done for them and students will have to put some research time into this. However, understanding finances, and budgeting as a whole, is a large part of going to university - especially if you are moving away from home. If students work out how much they will get as a total, they can use this to plan how they can spread it across everything they need to pay for at university.
Students have said to me that the changes in tuition fees did make them consider the prospect of heading off to university a little more carefully, but it is clear from many that if they wanted to head to higher education to study a certain course or work towards a particular career, then finance would not be a factor in deterring them. I was pleased to hear this from a large number of students, and I really hope that students are not put off because there is help and financial support available in all shapes and forms. It would be a real shame to hear stories of some people, who were keen on studying in higher education, but didn't follow this route due to a fear of fees. If more work needs to be done, then we need to make sure it is done.
When asked about fees, one student said to me: "£9,000 a year seems like a lot at first, but you don't have to pay a penny up front. Students have to weigh up the pros and cons of what their degree will give them and if it's worth the paying back of the money when they are earning a wage. University isn't for everyone, but the cost shouldn't be a barrier for those who want to go."
By the sounds of things, it seems like there are some misconceptions about paying the loans back, once a student graduates. Students can work out how much they'll pay using the student calculator, which will help to demonstrate it in real terms. When working, students only start paying back their loan when they are earning over £21,000 a year. Even then, they only pay back what you can afford, so the more you earn, the more you pay back through your payroll each month.
The key is to make sure students and their parents are as educated as they can be about student finance and how it works. This has to be highlighted by teachers, schools, universities and the media, enabling students to make a well-informed decision about their future.
For more information on Student Finance from UEA visit: www.uea.ac.uk/finance
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