In 2010, the government increased the tuition fee cap in England to £9,000. The cap, which was previously set at approximately £3,290, was the maximum rate universities could charge students for tuition. When the tuition fee increase was being consulted, the government said only a handful of universities would actually charge the higher rate, but since the cap increase was introduced more and more universities have decided to charge the maximum rate, leading many people to question if a university degree is worth £9,000 per year.
This isn’t the first time universities have been in the limelight. In 1999, Tony Blair sought to expand and develop universities and colleges; he wanted 50% of people under the age of 30 to have a university education. In an effort to bolster these numbers, tuition fee loans were introduced to encourage people from all backgrounds to partake in higher education. Fifteen years later though, young people leaving school are questioning if a university degree is worth it?
As someone who has passed through the secondary education and higher education system in England I can say, personally, it was worth it. I found university to be an exhilarating place where I could further study and learn about what I was interested in. It’s a place to expand and broaden your horizons. The biggest difference between school and university, that I wish someone would have told me before I left, is that at university you can develop knowledge in ways that enables you to think in a more in-depth and analytical level. At school, you’re taught in a very one dimensional setting: remember and repeat, to never question, analyse or look for the alternatives to what we are being taught; mostly because that’s the way the educational system is designed to be. University however, allows people to develop and foster the knowledge and skills that are necessary and required for individual progression.
Knowledge is just one part of what universities can offer. Going beyond the learning environment university allows people to develop themselves on different levels, the physical, psychological, spiritual and metaphysical. It is through independence at university that we are able to develop our character. Whether studying at home or living in hall-of-residence or rented accommodation, there are many challenges that we all have to face that will ultimately test our character.
One might say that you don’t need university to develop as a person; that is true, but the years we spend at university are a good place to test and refine our character. All of this comes back to independence. Some of the day-to-day challenges one might face could include having to look after ourselves for the first time; having to cook and clean, manage our time as well as our finances. All of these aspects in turn will start to define and test us. These attributes will lead to our psychological development, motivation, determination, will-power, commitment, strength – all of the traits needed for character development and progression. Spiritually, university does test faith and belief and these tests again come back to independence and choice; for example, have we got the strength and commitment to pray (Salaat) when on campus if there is nobody to remind us? When we are fasting (Ramadhan) it can be a very lonely experience if one is unable to share it with anybody and as such, remaining motivated and determined to make it to the end of the fast can become a struggle. All of these small individual tests are what, on a micro level, will build character and ultimately strength. In respect to all of these dimensions, tests and challenges, university has the ability to strengthen all of us and provide us with the skills and experience’s we need for the future, and in that respect alone university is worth it.
Yes, university is a place whereby individuals are able to develop themselves and their character, but university is also a place to get a degree and there is no doubt about it: having a degree does strengthen your CV. When applying for jobs, an employer is more than likely to shortlist and interview candidates who have strong CV’s and subsequently hire a candidate based on the skills and knowledge they can offer, sometimes with subject specific knowledge. Research by the Office for National Statistics in 2013 found that the employment rate for graduates with a degree was 87% and unemployment rate for a graduate with a degree was only 4%. Given the current economic turmoil and recent double dip recession, a degree will boost your chances of employment. With some careers, having a university degree is absolutely essential; and so when deciding if university is for you, it’s important to think about your career ambitions. Finally, studying for a degree creates transferable skills for the workplace that can only be built during your time at university.
It’s important to note here that my background is firmly rooted in the social sciences, not the natural sciences. Which is why when I discuss university from a knowledge based perspective, I am only able to provide an opinion from that which I have encountered and experienced personally on an undergraduate and postgraduate level. I am aware that students and graduates from the natural sciences might disagree with me and if this is the case I would encourage you all to write and share your opinions and experiences.
Written by Sayed Hameed Mozaffari