Teenage angst ignores fees

十二月 19, 1997

Tamsyn Imison asked her sixth-formers if cost will stop them going to university

THE government's decision to start its education reform legislation by changing the funding arrangements for full-time students has given the impression to sixth-formers and their parents that the cost will be far more.

Most university students estimate the actual total annual costs to be Pounds 8,000-Pounds 10,000 a year. The grant is Pounds 1,755 with Pounds 1,685 loan per year for all those living away from home outside London. The maximum grant for the large number of families on incomes below the minimum level and for refugee students is Pounds 4,245 with a loan of Pounds 3,860.

I was worried to hear from a fellow headteacher in Dudley that some sixth forms are down in numbers as potential students seem to have decided not to embark on the university trail. Having started my married life as a student always having an overdraft, I can empathise. I am also concerned to hear that university uptake has fallen significantly in many places. However, it is evidently critical for universities to have sufficient funding.

Dearing recommended that post-18 students would need to pay more towards their degree courses if desperately needed investment was to be made to support children as they begin nursery and school. I also support this.

The Department for Education and Employment makes the point that, on average, graduates earn 20 per cent more than non-graduates by about ten years after graduation. They also point out that loan repayments will now be over a much longer timescale and will not kick in until the graduate is earning over Pounds 10,000 a year. Then they will only pay back a percentage of their income over the first Pounds 10,000. They also calculate that only 66 per cent will pay university fees and of those another 33 per cent will only pay a proportion of the Pounds 1,000 yearly tuition fee.

Heather Daulphin, my director of post-16 studies, reassured all our sixth-formers in assemblies that it was a false economy not to go to university as they would earn far more as graduates.

Listening to my own sixth-formers, I was impressed with their passion for learning, their determination to go on to university and their refusal to let further costs hinder them. Having said that, some are changing their plans.

"Veronica", a talented flautist and wind player, studying A-level music, English and history, has decided to shelve her applications to Warwick, Liverpool and Exeter on the grounds that her family will not be able to find the extra Pounds 1,000. She will now be applying to universities in London. She said: "Costs will make it difficult but I don't mind staying at home. I want to study history and then do a PGCE as well as taking a gap year so that I can study music for one year first. Five years is a lot. I think the government should have found more money by raising taxes but I would not go on a march."

"Rachel" is studying A-level history, economics and sociology and wants to study psychology at university. She said: "I am going to go anyway. Wanting to go to university has kept me going when things got tough on A levels. I don't know yet what I want to do but I am passionate to learn about psychology. I am not going for a good job. I think everyone should be able to go and everyone will be put off but I think they will still go."

"Rina", a Colombian who studies A-level maths, modular science and sociology. She wants to go to either Kings, University College or Imperial College among others in London and study biotechnology. She lives with friends. She said: "My mother has always said, if you don't study you miss out. The prospect of paying this for the rest of my life isn't nice but at least over here the government gives you a loan. In Colombia, my uncle had to leave school at 16 and work to save the money to go to university. The government there does not help. He is now 28 and has only just saved up enough money to start his degree.

"I want a better quality of life. I want to be a professional. It will be very difficult to get a job but I don't want to work in McDonald's for the rest of my life."

The three "James's", all studying Spanish at A level were just as keen as the girls to get to university. They saw university as opening doors both socially and in terms of careers. James 2 said: "At university you get to know different people." James 3 said: "I want to get lots of knowledge, to travel and live abroad. I'd like to be qualified. In Israel my relatives all had to pay."

Interestingly, one of my most disadvantaged ex-pupils "Sharon", now doing extremely well at York University, told me she would find it easier to manage than her middle-class friend, because "I have always had to find work to get myself clothes and books."

My students seemed more incensed at the differential between support for Oxbridge and other universities. Their comments were: "It is really expensive"; "It is a really unequal system. The rich get a better education"; "It does divide the classes"; "Mainly public school people go to Oxford and Cambridge anyway so it will be even more difficult for us."

Managing schools, universities, and the national economy with dwindling resources is getting harder. Government should publicly recognise how essential it is to have a pool of highly qualified and committed young people. They need to feel equitably treated and supported so they in their turn can support us.

Tamsyn Imison is headteacher of Hampstead School, London, a large successful multicultural mixed comprehensive school with a sixth-form of over 250 students.

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