Review the value of education and be prepared to defend it

The Browne Report is going to change higher education forever, but at least it will provoke some nationwide debate and action

Cartoon: Samantha Strong

Cartoon: Samantha Strong

I agonized over whether I should come to University or not. After aimlessly drifting about a bit, lonely stomping through a few open days in appropriate footwear, it became patently obvious that I had no idea what I was doing.

This isn’t normally a problem for me. As far as talks of a ‘5 year plan’ go, I’ve always been pretty comfortable with my plan of maintained directionless mooching. But for probably the first time in my life, I actually forced myself to think about what I wanted to do. Paying £6,000+ just to doss around in my dressing gown does seem rather steep after all.

I began frantically rattling through some of the other options, searching for hidden vocations that might lead me on a steadier path. Perhaps I had a hidden talent for boat building and should apply to apprenticeships immediately, or go to the market and sell computers Alan Sugar style? Eventually I found my way to York, and I believe it worked out best for all concerned. Had I had to navigate my way through the minefield that is the newly released Browne Review, I’m not sure I’d have come to the same conclusion.

I’m not going to launch into a rant, because if we’re honest it’s a lot more complicated than that. The document itself is reasonably complex, and brings about so many serious issues, that it’s almost impossible to know where to start. How much is education worth? Does everybody need it? Will the exceptionally intelligent always rise to the top regardless? Are some courses worth more than others, and what will be the result of a ‘you get what you pay for’ higher education system?

For the first time this year, it seems like students passionately care about something, and it’s hugely invigorating. People are pissed off, people are protesting, and in my opinion it’s all overdue.

For too long now higher education has been in a state of limbo, with fees slowly creeping up, and the renowned English patience quietly wearing thinner and thinner.

Personally, I’ll be protesting against it. The report is presented linking payments directly to earnings, but this only superficially lessens the blow – make no mistake that under the proposed system there will be more debt amassed than ever before, and it’ll take years more to pay it back.

While this, the provisional bursaries, and funding to protect certain sectors such as the Sciences and Maths seem to make sense on paper, it’s all about perceived boundaries. Although previous UCAS statistics have suggested that fee rises have little impact on the amount of people applying to university, regardless of income, raising tuition costs even further may well be a step too far.

While provision has been set aside in the report for those from the lowest incomes, this doesn’t necessarily mean that people will make use of it. Taking on such a significant amount of debt in unstable times is a daunting prospect, and one which will surely alter the geography of higher education in England substantially.

A blanket system that penalizes the standard middle class student doesn’t seem like the logical way of resolving this.

You may well disagree, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s fantastic, because it means finally people are fighting for what their education means to them, and assessing the value of university in England.

For too long important questions on how our uni’s function in relation to others around the world have remained unanswered and undebated, and it’s time for that to change. Whether it’s political or personal, stand up for what you think, and make sure you’re part of a system you believe in.


  1. Did you really agonise about going to uni or not?

    Cos you know the other option is getting a job and not getting boozed for 3 years.

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  2. 15 Nov ’10 at 11:49 am

    The Old Spice man

    I think the Dunce above is missing the point a little.
    University is as much about the experience as it is about the degree you get at the end of it.
    The Student movement has the potential to be as strong as it has been in the past and a motion like this is good in terms that it shakes it up a little causing people to pay more attention to what is happening at Westminster and how it affects them. Xx

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