I remember when the student protests first took place in London; I had just begun my first year of sixth form and was preparing to enter the gruelling process of university application. A number of boys from my school had taken part in these protests with many outraged by the increase from £3,000 to £9,000 and it seemed the age group of 17-21 was swept away by these changes. The increase in tuition fees sparked the idea that perhaps university wasn’t a necessary step to take and that in fact university could be viewed as a weight that many couldn’t afford to bear before they had even started to earn a wage. This pessimistic attitude towards university was emphasised in 2012, as the UK experienced a reduction in the rate of applications since 2005. However, with the general election looming in 2015, parties such as Labour have made the reduction of university fees an important part of their manifesto as they aim to attract the student vote. The question, which Miliband must seriously consider then is, do the students still care about university tuition fees?

The main objection to the increase in tuition fees was that a significant increase would alienate a large proportion of the population and would therefore deny opportunities to those unable to pay for education. According to this argument, the fees are completely unjust, as it appeared to funnel social classes into occupations pre-determined by their wealth. Before researching this topic in depth I expected the rate of application to universities to have reduced by a certain extent, but it was interesting to note the application rate for UK universities had in fact increased.

Information released by a UCAS report in January 2014 states that this year’s applications had witnessed an increase in applicants to university, with England, Wales and Scotland reaching the highest levels recorded. This statistic raises the question; why didn’t the increase in tuition fees decrease the rate of applications? It is clear that although students opposed the changes to tuition fees, the large majority of us were not prepared to boycott university completely. The opportunities presented to students at university have become more illustrious, as I have learnt first hand in my first year, with recruitment fairs and seminars allowing students to specialise and network in their chosen areas of interest. These same opportunities would not be available to those who have not enrolled in university and this has effectively caused students to simply accept the increased fees, almost as an entrance fee into their industry of interest.

In comparison to other countries, UK students do not face the same economic pressures as others. American students are a prime example of this hardship with many parents having to set up university funds before their children are even born. Unlike the UK system, American universities require that fees be paid upfront on an annual basis and the student loan system is far more complex compared to UK’s student loans, where the loans and grants are readily available. With the average American tuition fee standing at around $21,000, many believe that students in the UK should consider themselves lucky that our universities haven’t been allowed to follow in the footsteps of our American counterparts and that we should simply cut our losses and accept the £9,000 tuition fee. This concept seems to be becoming more prevalent throughout the student population, and although it is not uncommon to hear fellow students questioning the worth of their £9,000 per annum degree, the student protests that had originally gripped the nation in 2011, seem like a distant memory.

Overall, the complexity of the tuition fees debate makes it difficult to fully commit to either side of the argument. Although there is the grim possibility of people being excluded from higher education by the rise in costs, the consistent increase in applications to UK universities depicts that the British youth do not consider the problem severe enough to fully rebel against. Many are content with accepting mass debt as a rite of passage for a student in order to gain their degree.

Although the student loan system means that the loans are only paid back in minimalistic terms, I still find it insulting that the majority of universities all boosted their fees to the maximum amount allowed. A university’s priority should be to provide higher education to those willing to work for a degree and not to turn higher profits at the expense of unfortunate students.

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