There is no doubt that the previous method of funding higher education was unsustainable and, furthermore, it was unfair. Not only were our universities slipping behind their worldwide peers in funding, but the argument that those who benefitted most from higher education should pay for it had built its own momentum.
All well and good except that a new generation of students now have to expect to start their working lives with a minimum of £45,000 of debt; and those on longer courses than three years with much more.
So what can they do to minimize their debt? There are several options open to them.
Firstly, they can choose not to go to university. Thirty years ago only the most motivated and most academic went to university. They got good academic degrees that were respected by employers and they were on the career ‘fast track’. That is no longer generally true. There have evolved a host of less academic degrees and many students waste their time at university and emerge with qualifications that are of no use to them. Now when the cost is so high the alternative of a modern apprenticeship or studying on the job should at least be considered.
Secondly it is worthwhile establishing if those fees can be reduced through a bursary of some sort. There are a large number on offer from all parts of the academic world and industry and diligent research may well turn something up.
Thirdly, sponsorship by a future employer is an excellent way forward. Companies want to secure the services of the best graduates and not only will they provide hard cash at university but very valuable work experience during the vacations. The hardest part of establishing a career is getting started and a sponsor will, hopefully, get a graduate over that hurdle.
Finally, there are a thousand ways in which a student can generate income and therefore minimize living costs. Getting a job on campus is a good start and establishing a relationship with an employer during a gap year may provide regular holiday employment. There are also lots of creative ways to reduce costs; for instance, by buying food in supermarkets that is close to its sell-by date and therefore reduced; or making your lunchtime sandwich at breakfast in halls rather than paying £3 in a sandwich shop. This may sound trivial but amounts to £660 over a 44 week academic year ( £3 x 5 x 44).
I would also recommend preparing a budget and cash flow and discussing with parents the whole issue of funding. Many parents are unhappy about their children starting life with a lot of debt and will be encouraging and supportive if they see their children taking the issue seriously. It also provides experience for later life when the cash management stakes get even more serious.
So students should not despair. There is much that can be done to minimize debt and enable a lot of fun to be had whilst getting a good degree.
Director CareerSkills Plus and lecturer on ‘Managing Your Finances’.