Guilt and sacrifice -a teenager explains why the higher education system does not add up

Having always wanted to go to university after my A levels, the huge costs of tuition fees and living expenses while away, are making me think twice, writes guest blogger Rachel Duffy, 14.

A popular discussion among me and my friends is university fees. It’s a huge worry for us, as more than half of universities in England and Wales charge the maximum of £9,000 each year to study at their university.

“Why should someone born in Stockton as opposed to an arguably better off, more affluent area like Cambridge have significantly fewer job opportunities and a poorer quality of life?”

England has the highest average undergraduate tuition fees in the industrialised world, OECD’s annual survey across 34 countries has found. I feel that these exceptionally high fees are increasing inequality in our generation and are out of line with all other developed countries.

It is a real issue that is a concern for thousands of teenagers and their families. I am very passionate about a good standard of education being available to everyone, not just the middle and upper classes.

I believe that your starting circumstances, whatever they are, should not define your future prospects or opportunities; this is a feeling I know I share with my friends and fellow pupils and as a generation, we believe society can and should do more to tackle this prominent issue.

High tuition fees are accentuating inequality within our society, with the top jobs going to the richer, whether or not they are technically more qualified for the job. It is proven that middle and lower-income graduates have to pay more than the rich, but why?

Why are we damaging the prospects of those who could do just as well if only they had the opportunity to improve themselves and attend university? As a society we need to give all young people a fair and equal chance in life, no matter where they come from.

Why should someone born in Stockton as opposed to an arguably better off, more affluent area like Cambridge have significantly fewer job opportunities and a poorer quality of life?

I don’t want to just become another statistic, this isn’t just about university fees but people’s life chances and the opportunities or lack of, that seem to be attached to these chances depending on the area you are born in. I strongly believe our start in life should have nothing to do with our end destination.

Constantly, at school fellow students express their worries and concerns, saying: “Yeah, it would be great to go to university, but I don’t fancy the idea of having to pay back my student loans for ages after I get a job”.

The truth is most of my year are now considering just going to college and then starting working or having an apprenticeship. It’s not that we feel that university isn’t the right route for us but the worry of the fees is putting many students off.

And if we took out a loan; we could be paying it off for the first few years of our working, earning life, (that’s assuming we get a job) with the prospect of debt looming over us constantly.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with not going to university or feeling that you would prefer to start working straight after school or go into an apprentice; but you should not feel that these are your only options.

“But these high fees are proving such a disincentive too many in my year they have decided now, three years beforehand, that they won’t be attending university. In view of this, should schools be promoting more apprenticeships?”

It’s not just us that are worrying about the high fees, but our parents are too, especially if they have more than one child. One of my friends told me how desperately she wants to go to university, but she is worried her parents wouldn’t have the money. She said that university fees were really the ‘elephant in the room’ for her and her family. Many more of my friends feel worried, perhaps even a little guilty, about the sacrifices their parents may have to make.

When I spoke to another friend currently doing his final year of A levels in Year 13, he said that he would not be attending university. When I asked why, surprised – as he is predicted to attain grade A’s and has always wanted to go into medicine – he told me that he had five younger brothers and sisters.

He said that it would be unfair for him to attend university, making things very tight, financially for his siblings and parents. He said that he felt that he could not truly enjoy his time away studying, constantly feeling guilty for the sacrifices he would have to put the rest of the family back home through. And what if his brothers and sisters wanted to attend in a few years time and the family savings had been used up on his fees.

He said it had been the most difficult decision he had ever had to make but felt he had done the right thing and said he didn’t want his time at university tarnished by the guilt he was experiencing even now, before going away.

If parents can’t pay, their children are saddled with debt and the fact that the loan will be interest free is scant consolation; owing upwards of £25,000 upon leaving university is an issue that concerns me.

There is, isn’t there, something about equity too? Following the referendum result in Scotland last year, we still have a “United Kingdom”. So how can it be that students who have been living north of the border for more than three years don’t have to pay university fees, but others do?

At what is already a pressurised time, with stress, depression and poor mental health high in teenagers, high university fees have added to life’s worries for not only me and my friends but thousands of teenagers across the country.

Last year we chose our options, deciding what GCSE subjects we wanted to carry on studying and which we wanted to drop. I, along with around one-third of my year, was chosen to do the English Baccalaureate qualification, which we are told universities look for. We are encouraged to participate in after school activities and clubs, as it will ‘look good’ on our application forms for university.

But these high fees are proving such a disincentive too many in my year they have decided now, three years beforehand, that they won’t be attending university. In view of this, should schools be promoting more apprenticeships?

But when young people do leave school I don’t think that they are fully equipped for ‘the real world’, whether that is university, a job or an apprenticeship. I don’t believe that we, as students, always have the right skills or knowledge that is usually needed in particular jobs. We are not ‘work ready’, but is it our entire fault?

For the around the past five years all we have heard, day in day out, is about the importance of our final exams and GCSE’s, it is portrayed that if we work and revise hard enough, often enough we will achieve those top grades, which is partly true, but it seems to be conveyed that once you get those qualifications the hard work will be over and you will be able to do whatever job you wish just with that sheet of paper with A’s on it.

But with so many 16 year olds now getting As and A*s, we need something else, other than just qualifications to set us out from the crowd when applying or interviewing for jobs; whether this be extra-curricular activities (music, sport etc), volunteering or even having a small job like a paper round, schools are so results driven that I believe they are forgetting about the pupils themselves.

“The truth is most of my year are now considering just going to college and then starting working or having an apprenticeship. It’s not that we feel that university isn’t the right route for us but the worry of the fees is putting many students off.”

Often leaving without a good grasp of the real world, social skills for interviews and professional, work environments or even sometimes common sense I believe that schools need to not only focus on the high achievers, but on making us well-rounded students who will become good citizens.

Schools are feeling so much pressure from the government to have high percentages of good A* to C grades, so while they are so engulfed in competing with other local and national schools for the top results, they are turning these unique, individual students into statistics.

Surely it is better to turn a troubled year seven with issues and poor social skills, into a kind, confident young man with hopes and dreams for his future, rather than just become an industrial machine churning out statistics each year.

Having said this I do believe that my generation has many assets, like social media. From a young age now, children can use phones and iPads, and when they leave school the majority can easily work computers and spreadsheets, even if having not taken a GCSE in IT. In a society where over half of us regularly check our Facebook or Twitter feeds, the ability to work and operate them is surely a skill in itself.

My year has all agreed that fees need to be lowered, – whether it is through greater pressure on the government, increased scholarships, or universities not charging the full £9,000 per year. Surely these incredibly high fees that are putting off those who are not middle classes etc, are, as a result, damaging the national interest; it hardly creates a balanced society when over 80% of the top jobs are going to the richest in our society. Something needs to change!

One of the core principles of the NHS is to be free at the point of delivery. Shouldn’t we aspire to the same for our education system?

 

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