Triple the value for triple the price?

Will Hamilton writes on his opinion of the current state of University tuition fees.

If having students break into your party headquarters, or having a fire extinguisher land in front of you, isn’t an adequate display of students’ dissatisfaction then I’m not sure what is. The events which unfolded in London last November were a suitable reaction to the government’s shocking plan to increase University fees.

A plan which had seemed a frightening rumour for so long and one which, might I add, the inclusion of the Lib Dems into the Coalition seemed to have laid to rest. Yet those awaiting the start of their University careers in September can breathe an immense sigh of relief in knowing that they are the last of the £3,000 per annum students.

I have seen a lot of complaints about this, mostly from distressed prospective uni students who are prematurely being forced to worry about loan repayments. However, I’m here to offer an alternative view to the matter; a silver lining if you will. The fact of the matter is that presently, UK graduates are a surplus commodity. One need only go back one or two generations at most to see that once coveted University degrees are almost a requisite in many modern fields of employment.

The concept of graduate jobs has become virtually extinct and has been replaced by the mere existence of jobs. Similarly the Higher Education Act in 1992 which removed British Polytechnics by awarding them full University status has hugely diluted the value of a degree. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency there are currently almost 2.5m full-time undergraduates in the UK, which dwarfs the 1m undergraduates in 1995. The current rate of students at Universities is increasing at too high a level and soon all new entries to the workforce will have University degrees.

At this point you may well be wondering where that silver lining I promised you has gone. Well I don’t think you need me to tell you that the present employment prospects for new graduates are, to be honest, terrible.

At this point I would like to tell you a little story about a boy called Zach. Zach studied hard at school and went on to University to read Quantity Surveying. He graduated from University with a good degree and the job hunt began. After 6 months of frustration and remedial work at the local cinema (where he had been employed at the same rate per hour as a school student) he embarked on a gap year to South East Asia in the hope that he would return to better prospects.

To my knowledge Zach is still in Asia, working at a bar somewhere, and trying to decide whether it’s worth returning to an overly competitive market for graduates in the UK. The same phenomenon is being observed all over the world. Surely (get ready for that silver lining) the recent increase in tuition fees will help to make degrees more valuable once again. The government has admitted that it expects this increase to turn some people away from attending university, but is this such a bad thing?

I understand that as a current undergraduate I benefit the most from the current system, and apologise if it seems that I am simply boasting about my own fortune. In truth I am simply trying to explain the possibility that University graduates will become a sought after commodity once again.

In the instance of Zach we saw a man who studied a very specific course which directly lends itself to a field of employment, struggling to find work. What hope do the historians or philosophers at Universities all around the country have at present? Are we all doomed to multiple gap years with unskilled jobs in random continents? Or are we ready to accept the possibility that a degree which is triple the value should be triple the price?

Another reason to support the increase in tuition fees is this, we are facing a huge labour shortage in the UK today. Admittedly there are no shortages of doctors, lawyers or bankers; but there is a massive shortage in the allied trades. Also, very few youths are being trained in the high street jobs which used to be so important. Where are the future butchers, postmen, and shopkeepers? What young person would choose such training when the possibility of 3 years at uni and degree are so enticing?

Similarly we can hope that with some students being put off future university attendance that we might soon see the removal of what Boris Johnson aptly calls ‘Mickey Mouse Degrees’. Given the media attention awarded this topic over the past decade I need hardly list some of the more questionable subjects students are dedicating dissertations to these days; but one does have to wonder just how many compulsory modules are required for a degree in Beatles Studies (as awarded by Liverpool Hope Universities).

So what are the implications of this recent increase? Only time will tell. But before we start organising Millbank round 2 or researching projectile fire extinguishers I hope that you will consider the points I have put forward today.