Education & Family

University fees: Students' and parents' views

Students and their parents have given their views on what increasing tuition fees could mean for them.

Mike Wilkinson: Parent fears he won't be able to support his daughter

Image caption Mike says he is caught in the classic middle-income bracket

Mike, a technical services manager from Lancaster, already struggles to help his first daughter, Laura, pay the fees for her criminology and psychology degree at Keele University.

Now he fears lifting the cap on tuition fees from 2012 will mean his second daughter, Hollie, won't be able to go to university. "I think it would put her off. I would still give her the advice 'you can only do what you can afford,'" says Mike.

While he has a good job, Mike says he is the sole breadwinner in the family and he is not flush with cash. He fears the recommendations of the Lord Browne review will see university become the preserve of the elite well-off.

"It's bound to create a two-tier system, I would have thought," says Mike." It's saying 'don't worry about the well off because they can afford it and don't worry about the poor because we'll pay for them, but to hell with everyone else'.

"I would dearly love to help Hollie, if I could afford an extra £4k a year, but I don't have that, say, £300 a month to give her - the reality is I can't.

"I could say to her 'go to university, get a debt of £35-£40k, get married and have children and never do a day's work and by the time you're 50 odd, the government will write it off' - but what a disincentive to work is that?"

Mike thinks there should have been a closer look at what universities themselves are doing. "We as taxpayers pump a lot of money into universities and get no return and students get no return. Sometimes it feels like they are asking students and taxpayers to fund a totally academic existence where I can contemplate my navel."

Mike also would like to have seen greater scrutiny of universities' buildings and estate development.

Ruben Ferreira: Fine Arts student would not be put off by higher fees

Image caption Ruben Ferreira works part-time to fund his studies, but says a degree is worth the hard work

Ruben, 21, is in his second year at Chelsea College of Art and Design. The first in his family to go to university, he is studying for a BA in fine art. He is not receiving help from his family, but gets a small bursary from the university and works 16 hours a week in a coffee shop to help fund his studies. Nevertheless, he expects to finish his course with £26,000 of debt.

Ruben says the recommendation to double tuition fees "doesn't look good", but maintains it would not put him off going to university. "I have always had the ambition of being a teacher and in order to do that I need to do a PGCE and to do that I need a degree," he says.

"A rise in fees is off-putting, but for students who want to get on there's not much choice, they have to do it." It may even act as an incentive for students to work even harder, he adds.

That's not to say he thinks a rise in fees is fair. "You're trying to achieve something to give back. There ought to be an alternative - how much more should students be in debt by?"

Sally: Medical student would be put off by higher fees

Sally (not her real name) is studying medicine at Kings College London. She says Lord Browne's recommendation of higher fees would have put her off university altogether.

"I wouldn't have applied - I'd have had to apply to a rubbish university because cost would have been an issue. If you can only go to a rubbish one, you have to look at your prospects after that."

Sally fears the proposed changes will lead to a two-tier system. "I think it's going to be a barrier because the top universities will be able to charge more and the rubbish universities will buy people in by offering cheap degrees. It's going to mean where you've studied will be more important than ever," she says.

Sally is funding her degree with a student loan and bursaries she has received from King's College. She also works 20 hours a week in a nightclub at weekends. She did not want to disclose her real identity because she did not want her parents or tutors to know just how much she was working.

She says working and studying at the same time has been tough. "Last year I really struggled and it would be Wednesday before I'd caught up on sleep. Then I would have a couple of good days study before I was back working again."

Tom Welsh: Prospective student who would be put off by higher fees

Image caption Tom says debt is being portrayed as being acceptable

Tom Welsh, 19, sat his A-levels this summer and plans to take up a place at Leicester University next year to study politics. He is likely to escape the full effects of the Browne review - the recommendations of which are likely to be implemented in 2012 - but he still expects to graduate with debts of up to £20,000.

"It's quite a lot in itself - if it gets to £40,000 or £50,000 then it's getting a bit ludicrous," says Tom. He says he feels very sorry for the next generation of students.

"I feel really bad for them - I fear for all the people younger than me, who don't know it yet, but their futures are being crazily affected."

Tom is concerned that charging such high fees gives students the message that being in debt is acceptable.

"Being in debt in this country is seen as okay and it shouldn't be like that."

Tom says he feels angry with the Liberal Democrats because he voted for them on the grounds that they opposed tuition fees. He also finds it hard to accept that higher fees for students are being imposed by a generation that did not have to pay for a university education.

Paul Scotson: Parent fears his children will end up with huge debts

Paul, a business analyst from Wimborne in Dorset, worries that his two children will end up with thousands of pounds' worth of debt. His daughter, 19, is just starting a degree in veterinary medicine at Bristol University and his son, 15, wants to study medicine.

Paul does not think lifting the cap on tuition fees will put his son off going to university. "If he does medicine, he will get a return," he says.

But Paul feels, out of fairness, he will have to make up the difference between the fees faced by his two children. His daughter is not likely to be hit as hard by the changes due to take effect in 2012.

Paul also says means-testing should take account of how many children parents are having to support through university. He says his family will be hit hard because they are in the middle-income bracket.

"I am a professional, but by no means a wealthy person," says Paul. "I drive a 12-year-old car and don't take expensive holidays. I can't afford much help so my children could finish up with £50,000 of debt just to cover the fees, let alone living costs."

Paul has a novel idea for raising more cash for the higher education sector. "I suggest that those who are voting for this [higher tuition fees] should be asked to retrospectively pay for their university degrees before they're allowed to vote in favour," he says.

More seriously, Paul would have preferred a recommendation where all current student debt was wiped out and a graduate tax that applied to everyone in the country with a degree was brought in. "It would be fairer and a lot lower too," he says.

Michael Whitmore: History student would not be put off by higher fees

Image caption Michael is funding his degree with a part-time job and help from his parents

Michael, 20, is a third-year history student at the University of East Anglia. He says the higher fees recommended by Lord Browne will increase the pressure on lower-income families and lead to a long-term problem of debt.

But Michael says higher fees would not put him off going to university because he feels a degree is a necessity. "To get anywhere in life, you need a good degree. It's a social stigma - you have to go to university or everyone looks down their nose at you."

Michael says university is also important because it is a "journey", giving students the chance to develop other skills, sporting or otherwise.

Michael is funding his degree with a part-time job - 16 hours a week - in a school kitchen. His parents are also helping him, but with the proviso he gets a 2:1 - if he doesn't, he will have to pay them the tuition fees back.

Michael's solution to the problem of funding university education would have been to "go for quality over quantity". He believes the expansion of higher education has led to the devaluation of degrees.

Michael suggests just the top 100 universities should be allowed to offer degrees and the rest should become specialist colleges in their areas of expertise. This would stop "large amounts of students running into large amounts of debt with a degree that will barely help them in the job market", says Michael.

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