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So, what are you going to do when you Graduate?

Posted on 24th December 2009. No Comment

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James Dunn looks forward to turkey, trimming and potential unemployment…

“Any seasonal jobs that become available are immediately snatched up by the local unemployed workforce before the students return home..”

_images_stories_grolsch_christmas_treeStudents across the country have been heading home this week through the snow, filling the trains and buses with black bin bags full of laundry. We may look to be full of Yuletide joy, but the outlook for students this Christmas, and for 2010, is as bleak as the inevitable sprouts on Christmas Day.

With unemployment reaching an all-time high this year, any seasonal jobs that become available are immediately snatched up by the local unemployed workforce before the students return home, as they simply have more time to offer and are viewed as more reliable than the students with their boozy image constantly beamed around the media. Any seasonal work that students can get consists of severely cut hours and reduced days as current workers are offered the prime shifts for overtime. This does not bode well for all those who depend on this income to survive the next term, let alone pay for Christmas presents. Christmas Day itself can also be considered the enemy; you gather around your nearest and dearest to suffer a bombardment of uncomfortable questions: do you have a girlfriend? Do you do any work? and the worst of all… What are you going to do when you graduate? The question that leaves all students sweaty palmed and speechless. With graduate jobs becoming scarce, university career advisors urge many to simply stay in further education and ride out the recession in the student union bunker. This idea would be perfect if it was not for the giant elephant in the room otherwise known as ‘funding’. Course fees for a postgraduate degree cost an average of £4,200 and, with living costs, the total is near the £12,000 mark. There is still very limited financial support for postgraduate study and no government loans similar to undergraduate support…. many are forced out into the cold of the real world.

“…in the last few days, Nick Clegg declared he would scrap tuition fees over the next 6 years which is more of a glacial speed fade out than a scrapping…”

A general election is planned for early 2010 and will more than likely result in a change in leadership. In his first_images_stories_grolsch_christmas_tree statement on the educational policy of his new Conservative party back in January 2006, Cameron stated: ‘You want to go to universities that are well-funded, [with] good tutors, good facilities and I want as many people who think they’re going to benefit from university to be able to go. If you want those things and as you also know we’ve also got to keep taxes down in this country the money’s got to come from somewhere.’ He said in the same speech that ‘…students are going to have to make a contribution.’ His sentiments have been unchanged. However, in my recent interview with Cameron he asserted that ‘People studying should not have to suffer from financial hardship and people from disadvantaged backgrounds should not be put off studying because of financial pressures. The bursary system needs to be reformed to ensure that those really in need are helped’.

Other parties have had differing views on the finance structure, highlighting how important they perceive students to be. Peter Mandleson’s review of how much students in England should pay for the privilege of a higher education (that began in November and is likely to be completed after the election) is widely expected to recommend an increase in tuition fees. The Liberal Democrats have been less forceful; after spending years saying they would abolish these fees, they did a U-turn on the promise at their party conference in September, saying that it is simply not feasible in the current economic climate. However, in the last few days, Nick Clegg declared he would scrap tuition fees over the next 6 years which is more of a glacial speed fade out than a scrapping. Clegg’s pledge will cost £7.5 billion over 6 years to complete, so if they were to miraculously get into power, it is likely that their ‘flagship’ policy would fall to the wayside in favour of saving the economy. The conclusion is that all parties are offering the same thing in the short term: tuition fees will stay and more than likely increase. In the past ten years (1997-2007) universities have seen an increase of 400,000 students. With tuition fees becoming introduced during this period, as well as universities receiving more money from the government, you would expect to see a massive leap in resources and funding available for students. This trend of increasing students and stagnant resources means that students are finding the change from school life to university a massive and nerve-wracking leap.

Without a colossal overhaul of how the loans are distributed, the amount of students unable to pay for higher education will snowball.

_images_stories_grolsch_christmas_treeThere are more students entering higher education than ever before and if this trend isn’t met with better resources, students will be entering the real world in a worse state than ever before. If this academic term is an omen for the rest of the year, we are in for a disastrous 2010. Statistics from the Student Loans Company (SLC) indicate that in November as many as 70,000 students were still waiting for financial support, and reports show that only 5% of phone calls were answered during the peak of the delay. The latest figures from suggest 28,000 people from England are still waiting to receive their loans and grants. Without their maintenance and tuition fee loans, many students were forced to leave university as they simply could not afford to carry on. Without a colossal overhaul of how the loans are distributed, the amount of students unable to pay for higher education will snowball. Furthermore those wishing for better job opportunities, who cannot afford university alone, will be incapable of getting the education, echoing back to a class system where only the rich are able to go to university.

So this Christmas, when you tuck into your turkey, think of students facing a not so merry Christmas and a grim New Year. Without the government refocusing university policies and relieving the massive financial burden, students will leave university with a full head and an empty wallet. This does not bode well, resulting in a generation of students with degrees, massive loan repayments and fewer graduate jobs.  Is higher education really worth it’s price tag?

James Dunn

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