Epigram Editorial: Tuition Fees and Safe Space

My first editorial of 2016! I spent a week doing work experience in London, and based my musings this week an article I read while I was there. 

2016 is in full swing now; most of us have broken our New Year’s resolutions, term has began in ernest and, somehow, it’s February (anyone want to explain to me where January went..?)

This week I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time working as a researcher at The Sunday Times Magazine. This means that, for once, I’ve been able to read the content which is usually hidden behind a pay wall. One of the articles which caught my eye was an opinion piece, in which Katie Glass explains why, in hindsight, she wishes she hadn’t gone to uni.

Attending university isn’t for everyone, but everyone should have the option.

A controversial argument for sure, but all the same an interesting and compelling one. The article suggests that students no longer enjoy the freedom university once provided for two main reasons: financial restrictions caused by fee increases; and the introduction of safe space policies, which arguably means less experimentation with ideas.

Consequently, Katie wrote that although she enjoyed her time as a student, she wishes she’d been ‘clever enough not to go to uni’: higher education was not essential to her current career in journalism, and she feels she would have gained more learning on the job than doing an English degree.

This argument stuck in my mind, although I don’t entirely agree with it. Sure, I might only have four hours of contact time each week, but I do genuinely feel like I’ve gained something from studying History – not only knowledge, but also key skills such as research and crafting an argument; skills I have put to use this week.

But that’s not to say I feel entirely satisfied with the course at Bristol, something which was reflected in my National Student Survey response. I regularly can’t find the books I need in the ASS, or a seat, and I think that the quality of teaching and the marking standards varies too much from tutor to tutor. While having four hours a week has given me a flexible timetable (which is very useful as Editor of Epigram) it too can get a bit frustrating. Where’s my £9,000 going?

Related Article: Student seized at free education protest

So onto the first aspect of Katie’s argument: money.

The question of funding higher education is an issue for students, parents and universities alike, and will be hotly debated in 2016. What with the outcome of the Government’s green paper on Higher Education – which proposed raise fees in line with inflation for institutions for the highest ranking universities – and the plans to scrap maintenance grants in favour of more loans, funding of universities could see dramatic changes.

students at a free education rally in London in November

students demonstrate at a free education rally in London in November

The obvious concern here is that higher education will become more elitist and less accessible; equal opportunity should be something valued, not restricted. Increased financial burden does put more pressure on students, but this shouldn’t be a deterrent, and doesn’t necessarily restrict freedoms or independence. Or not yet, at least.

While Katie may argue that a degree doesn’t always enable you to better complete your job, there remains evidence suggesting that those with a degree earn £12,000 a year more than those without.

Attending university isn’t for everyone, but everyone should have the option.

Related Article: Tuition fees set to rise under new government proposals

Safe space policies are also hugely contentious; Katie’s suggestion that they limit experimentation isn’t a new perspective, or one I disagree with. Yes, words are powerful, and should not be used to spread prejudice, fuel violence, or cause certain groups to feel unsafe or isolated.

Yet just because we disagree with somebody – whether that person Donald Trump or Milo Yiannopoulos – doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage with them. Discussion is important, and by avoiding discussion it actually gives more prevalence and power to those whose ideas we disagree with.

Related Article: Big Debate, should the University introduce a ‘No Platform’ policy?

However, safe space policies are not a reason not to attend university, and should not be focused on over the plethora of positives gained from higher education – such as the value of being part of a society, the self-motivation developed or the excitement of exploring a new city.

Nonetheless, Katie raises significant issues in her article; ones which impact us all and will characterise 2016.

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