November 4th 2015 saw the nation’s students taking to the streets of London in peaceful demonstration, demanding free education for all, as well as protesting against fees and cuts currently ravaging the UK education system.
Whilst a large collective of students marching through the country’s capital may seem like a drastic measure, many students believe that the current educational landscape has changed beyond recognition in the past 20 years, and not necessarily for the better. Supporters of this peaceful demonstration believe the UK’s higher education system has become increasingly bourgeois, especially since eligibility for student loans is now solely based on parental income, rather than taken on a case-by-case basis.
Many see education as a fundamental right, especially when considering all levels of education in the UK (including university courses) were free to all until the Labour Government introduced tuition fees 17 years ago, in September 1998. When these rules were first implemented, students were required to pay up to £1,000 a year for tuition, but since then the fee structure has seen a major overhaul, resulting in students having to pay astronomical fees for an education that past generations had once received for free.
In the years since this change, the fee for a university education has slowly been creeping up—until 2012, domestic students in the UK had to pay in excess of £3,000 per year until January of that year, when a revolutionary and highly controversial new legislation was passed by the Government. As a result the fee structure was overhauled, and once again to the detriment of home students. The bill came into effect as of January 30th 2012, which then allowed universities in England to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year for the privilege of earning a degree.
The modern fee structure now sees most higher-education institutions charging domestic students £6,000 per year for their tertiary education, but this figure rises to an upper-tier fee of £9,000 if universities provide subsidised spaces for poorer students. This has caused discontent amongst students, as the new payment structure has doubled—or in some cases even tripled— the average fee of £3,000 that students were paying just a year earlier for effectively the same level of education.
Naturally, three years later, this is still proving irksome to the current university intake, which is why peaceful demonstrations allow students to have their say against rising fees. This could explain why most modern students are now increasingly cost-aware, demanding more from both their higher-education institutions and from their accommodation because of the tuition fee premium that they are forced to pay.
However, students have proved in the past decade that they are more than willing to spend more on their student accommodation if the quality can be assured—meaning they will pay more money for things that are considered a luxury, like inclusive bills, communal areas and super-fast Wi-Fi. In students’ minds, if they have no choice but to pay £6,000 or even £9,000 for the same level of education that other students have paid a fraction of the price for, then they should be making the most of their time at university through a higher standard of accommodation. No longer will students put up with sub-par halls of residence that are provided by their institutions—modern students want more for their money, especially since they are paying proportionally more for the privilege of studying in the first place.
You would think that rising tuition fees are enough to put off even the most conscientious student—but on the contrary, the latest figures from UCAS have shown that English institutions have seen a record year for university applications for the academic year 2015/16, as over 600,000 students applied for a place at higher education. Clearly the growing level of tuition fees have not deterred applicants from applying to universities, so as long as peaceful demonstrations allow disconcerted students to air their views, it seems like demand for a university education will always be a priority and as a result university applications will always be on the rise.