In 2012 the Conservative-Liberal coalition government tripled tuition fees for university places to £9,000. Then, last year, it was announced that universities could start charging £9,250 per year. Rather than courses being partly state funded, the cost was transferred to the students.
This meant that any person considering higher education was faced, upon graduation, with an immediate debt of £27,000 for a three year course, not including any additional charges such as books, rent and food.
Asking students to put themselves into £40,000 to £50,000 worth of debt, before most reached their eighteenth birthday, was and is an extremely tough decision. However, if we are to compete with others for professional jobs, this is something that is necessary to fulfil our ambitions. I started university the year the higher fees were introduced, but for me there was no other option, as I wanted to progress academically for better career prospects. Or that was what we were led to believe.
The one thing that helped me through my undergraduate degree was the maintenance grant. This was a non-refundable sum of money given to students based on their household income, with the most money going to those students whose household earned the least. However, in 2016 the government that claimed it wanted to bridge the gap between social classes removed this and replaced it with a further loan, in addition to the tuition fee loan.
It is hard not to surmise that the increase in fees and the removal of this grant make it harder for those from poorer, working class backgrounds to progress academically. We should be encouraging any person, from any background, to aspire, not create further barriers.
Students may still choose to go to university, but the previous option of being able to choose the best university and best course could be too much of a pipe dream at the moment. Choices become more limited to universities near the family home to save money.
To compensate for students’ woes, we were told that the loan would not need to be paid back until our annual income was £21,000, higher than the previous £17,495 when the fees were capped at £3,000. But with the accumulated debt so high after completing the course, is it actually realistic that the debt will be paid off?
Some students may never earn over £21,000 and so would never have to pay this back. For those lucky enough to earn over this sum, the size of the debt is so great that it could take decades to repay.
If you earn between £21,000 and £25,000, you would pay £30 a month back, which is affordable. But long term, this becomes an ongoing tunnel with no light at the end. A student looking to repay the loan on this salary would only have paid off just over ten grand by the age of 50.
This is the legacy that we are passing on to future generations: crippling debt from a young age, a necessary evil for anyone who aspires to advance academically and professionally. It is an ongoing price to pay for education, and a debt that may never be paid.
Beth Perkin is a multimedia journalism student at Manchester Metropolitan University