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Pricing out potential post-grads

Image: Greengage environmental
Image: Greengage environmental
Image: Greengage environmental

The price of Higher Education has been debated in recent years when it comes to undergraduate tuition fees. It has bridged the gap between political parties and become a heightened area of debate among professors, students and politicians alike. Whilst many agree current tuition fees are too high, at present, there does not seem a viable solution to covering the costs. Despite the focus on undergraduate education, there is a lack of attention spent on the severe price of education at postgraduate level. Institutions can charge from £7,000 to £30,000 for a one year course. These evident discrepancies price out a large majority of those seeking further education, as the government provided loan only covers up to £10.609 (hardly enough for the tuition fees of many courses, let alone living costs). The pricing out of students is a trend towards the increasing monestisation of education and one that if we fail to cap, will continue into the future. Education should be a human right, rather than a peculiar privilege, it is time we invested in the people of the future rather than marginalizing them.

The Government funded masters loan is £10,609 maximum for a one year course. The loan itself is not means tested, meaning a student’s financial background does not determine the amount they will get. On the surface this is good as it is a guaranteed amount however, it does not account for the extra expense of living as there is also no further available maintenance loan issued by the Government. Additionally, unlike the undergraduate loan, there is no increase if a student wishes to attend a University in London where fees are in the realm of £10,000-£20,000 for a year alone, it means that students will have to rely on self funding or opting for part time study propped up by part time work. Not only does this put many academically able students off further study, but it restricts the institutions that they can attend on a financial level. Here at York, the average fees are at the lower end between £7,000-8,000 however, somewhere such as the London School of Economics and Political Science, can charge up to £21,000 for just one year alone. At masters level, courses seem to be determined by how much a student can afford, rather than their academic ability. Aside from turning universities into business like, profit centered institutions, it creates more boundaries and less diversity within the student body. There has been considerable attention and focus on reducing this within undergraduate level, however, the severity of it at postgraduate level needs to be addressed.

You may be thinking this is a fairly irrelevant issue that only affects the few that do go onto study Master’s degrees. However, studying at postgraduate level no longer results in lifelong Academia with the amount of taught courses on the rise (as opposed to research led, PhD’s.) Further education should not be treated as a unique privilege only available to the few, but a course of willing investment from the Government for the future of those running the economy, public services and more. Additionally, as more people attend university the uniqueness of an undergraduate degree gets less, it is increasingly becoming an expectation rather than a distinctive cause of merit. Studying at postgraduate levels has many benefits but also allows people to study a subject completely different to their undergraduate level. Having decided what degree to take at age eighteen many students may wished they had chosen something different and they should be able to pursue further education without it being a financially restrictive burden.

If it is a justified price (which is highly doubtable, as many taught courses are mainly independent study) then a break down of all costs should be given for applicants. Even as undergraduates, we have no idea where our tuition fees go. There needs to be greater transparency within universities so students know exactly where their money is going to and they know they are making good choices. Additionally, the government needs to step up and provide master’s applicants with a maintenance loan that covers the cost of living, as this is non-existent at present. Many do not even consider applying for a master’s, just on this basis as it is not financially viable for those without savings or an adequate financial background. Education at all levels should be something invested in, not set aside and left so it is only available for those of high financial privilege. All education is a human right and an investment that should not be judged on outcomes of financial profit.

Thus, it seems the higher status of the institution the more it charges on a fees basis. For what has been lost through the cap on undergraduate tuition fees, is now being gained through the exploitative charges for postgraduate courses. It alienates those who do not have extensive savings or a wealthy background and it prioritizes those who are lucky enough that do. Although many institutions offer bursaries and scholarships, one cannot rely on those and they are only given out in exceptional circumstances. Seeing as undergraduates today are rarely predicted to pay off their university debt in their lifetime even when having a well paid job, the justification for an un-capped charging system in postgraduate education seems senseless. It just adds to the pile of irreconcilable debt that hangs over the morale of graduates for the rest of their lives. As universities are becoming more like businesses, where every student is considered in terms of their profit, the charge of master’s fees only adds to the trend of monetising education. With Vice Chancellors on salaries of six figures and the average price of student debt upon graduation at £27,750 (excluding potential debt through overdraft facilities) it seems education is becoming more divisive. It’s a policy of profit over all embracing access to education. At present, master’s courses are restricting students on the basis of their financial ability, over academic. It is an unhealthy trend that needs to be prevented to ensure that in the future, education has no boundaries.