Little over a month ago I graduated from the University of York with a first in History and a confirmed place to study a postgraduate law conversion at the University of Law in London. Today, I have had to defer my place until September 2014 and belatedly join many of my fellow-graduates still in the search for full-time work.
The reason for this last minute deferment was that, having exhausted every possible option, the deadline to pay the first installment of course fees arrived and I did not have the money. I'd wager that few twenty-one year olds fresh out of university can lay claim to having £5,000 in their bank accounts (with a further £5,000 due in December). My parents don't have that kind of money spare, either. But surely education should be open to all, regardless of financial situation, even postgraduate education?
People claim that there is funding out there, and I admit that there are options. Still, I think that the government needs to step in and offer more. None of the existing options were available to me, and I'm sure there are tons of other students in the same boat. Several of my friends are looking at Masters and they are finding the costs high and funding scarce.
Am I sure the current options are not sufficient? Well, let's look at what they are:
Firstly, sponsorship: the Holy Grail of postgraduate funding, not only do you get a company to cover the cost of your course but you are also virtually guaranteed a job with said company when you graduate. However, this is the Holy Grail precisely because it is so difficult to secure. To expect that everyone can fund their postgraduate courses this way is to prove that you've never sent out endless applications only to receive a rejection from every single one because "unfortunately we received a record number of highly impressive applications this year."
Bursaries: many institutions still offer bursaries, and that is to their credit. However, in the penny pinching era we are currently caught in, the pool of those who are eligible for it is shrinking every year. Those who are caught just above the arbitrary threshold aren't in a vastly dissimilar position to those just below it, and yet they find themselves ineligible.
PCDL: The government does offer a Professional & Career Development Loan, delaying repayments until one month after you complete your course. I thought this was what I would use to cover the fees of my law course. Unfortunately, there are very specific guidelines on what courses are eligible for such funding, and they have to lead directly into a job. Not all postgraduate courses carry this assurance, though employers unofficially admit that they are valued.
Bank loan: having informed my university that I wasn't eligible for the PCDL they kindly told me not to worry, lots of people fall into that trap, and I shouldn't have any problem getting a loan from a high street bank. So the following day I traipsed to my dear Nationwide. Oh, and Natwest. And Co-Op and Lloyds and Barclays and Halifax and Metro Bank and Santander. No luck. Banks do offer graduate loans, but they only offer them to those who can prove they have secured full-time employment. You can't study a postgraduate course and work full-time, and there needs to exist another option.
Bank of Mum & Dad: the banks were sympathetic to my situation. They suggested that when graduates come in asking for loans to fund postgraduate courses, their parents take the loan out on their behalf. A nice idea, but my father lost his job several years ago and is still struggling to find another, and with my mother only working part-time and paying a mortgage and bills, well let's just say their combined income and credit rating didn't inspire much confidence from any of the banks we visited. Which was all of them.
Employers themselves admit that masters and various other postgraduate qualifications are becoming increasingly necessary to set yourself apart in this difficult job market, with so many people attending university and getting Bachelor's degrees. The government is partly to blame for this situation in which it seems that perennial education is the only option. I know the public purse can't fund every young enthusiast who wants to devote years upon years to a PhD, but there are a lot of one- and two-year postgraduate degrees out there that could add real value to a jobseeker's CV. Doing this law conversion, and the requisite course that follows it, has the potential to boost my earnings by over £10,000 per year. The government needs to do more to ensure that these opportunities are not the preserve of those whose parents can afford them.
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