Access to Higher Education

I see Germany have stopped charging tuition fees and I can only hope that the UK soon follows suit. My daughter wants to be a primary school teacher, I think she would be great at it. She has to have a degree to enter the profession and gaining that will mean coming out of university approximately £50,000 in debt.

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She isn’t too worried about this, you pay it back in small increments and only when you reach a certain level of income, and most importantly she has a vocation and therefore it seems worthwhile to her, despite the scary figures involved.

We are a working class family, and figures suggest that some people from families like ours are being put off of going to university by the costs involved, which is a real shame. I will tell you something though, fear of these debts accrued throughout the course are not the only barrier.

We have been on a grand university tour in the last few weeks, attending open days AND interviews at the institutions she is interested in attending. The open days were inspiring, exciting and we have came away with great advice on applications and personal statements and the like. The interviews were essential, no chance of a place without them, she found them terrifying actually, but now has an offer for her university of choice under her belt so it has been worthwhile.

What it has not been is cheap. She had her last interview yesterday, and I think between her Dad and I (and a donation from her Grandparents) we have spent around  £1000 on travel and on occasion accommodation.

Under normal circumstances we would not be able to afford this, it is thanks to an inheritance from my grandfather last year that I can fund my bit of these visits and I like to think he would approve of me spending his money this way. But without it she would not have been able to go, our budget does not have that kind of wiggle room.

What a shame it would be if some young people were missing out because of these costs. Most parents will try and find a way but it may be impossible. Some kids may feel too guilty to even ask, I know my daughter feels bad about the costs involved and has panicked about it from time to time.

We are the classic working class family where no one has been to university before, and that actually makes the open days even more important, I have no experience to impart. Some courses such as hers insist on an interview, and of course for careers such as teaching we really want to ensure the best candidates are getting places, as they will be teaching our children and grandchildren in years to come. What a shame that some talented youngsters may be missing out as they cannot afford the application process let alone the ongoing costs of attendance.

Apparently some universities will offer help with interview costs, some have clearly stated on her invitations to attend that they will not. I am sure there must be assistance available through somewhere, but it certainly not laid out for easy access, it would be nice if there was a clear process laid out for those who need it. If we want to encourage social mobility we are certainly not helping young people better themselves if we continue to have these financial barriers in the way. I would really hate to see a situation where once again access to higher education is only in the reach of the rich as every child/young adult deserves the chance to make the best of themselves.

I am all for the increase in apprenticeships and the like, as I do not believe you need a degree to succeed in all fields, but equally I don’t like to feel people’s choices may be limited by finances or that we may be missing out on possibly some of the most talented achieving all they could. I long for a return to the days of free higher education for all really. I don’t see it happening, but I can dream can’t I?!

And as a brief aside, but still on the topic of social mobility and education, last nights Question Time discussion of Grammar Schools got a few of us chatting on twitter. I do not like a system that labels a child a success or failure at 11. My daughters CATs scores led her teacher to tell me she wouldn’t pass any GCSEs. It’s a good job they didn’t tell her that, as she may have given up, as it is she passed 12. Children vary a lot in their development and have a huge ability for change beyond that age. She went to a great comprehensive that was able to tailor her education for each improvement or drop, ensuring she was being taught at the correct level for her at each step. I am not anti-streaming, I think that can help everyone, but making children feel they can’t succeed at 11 is surely a bad thing.

I don’t even believe it truly helps as a medium of social mobility. The grammars that still exist gain good results (because they have bright kids at them, obvs) and therefore their catchment areas are increasingly out of the price range of many, not to mention that many better off parents pay for their children to be tutored for the exam, some over several years, whereas others have far littler preparation. Money buys you an advantage in life, I wish it didn’t, but I think we need to unpick society a great deal before that changes sadly.

Love Miss Cisco XXX



  1. December 12, 2014 / 7:24 am

    Absolutely agree with you regarding costs of even attending Universities open days and interviews. My youngest sister has applied to Leeds, York and Edinburgh and I am sure you can imagine the costs involved in getting to those places from Bristol. She has also applied for social work so, like your daughter, she has to have interviews. Thankfully, her Leeds and York ones are the day after each other and she happens to know someone who lives just outside Leeds who has happy to let her stay. There is just no way that she would have even considered going to the open days for those Unis if our mum was still alive; as it is she has been largely brought up by our Uncle and Aunt who are very middle class and have a much larger income than our mum, who was a single parent on benefits.
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  2. December 12, 2014 / 11:11 am

    I am in the same position as you. My son is attending interviews at present. He was to go to University close to home, so luckily we haven’t had to spent out on accommodation costs. I am the first of my family to go to Uni, and my family didn’t have two pennies to rub together. I am still paying off my student loan. My son is already concerned about the costs involved with going to University.

    Regarding grammar schools, It was implied that my son wouldn’t attend mainstream education at the age of 2 and a half. Yes you read that correctly. At 16 he got 9 GCSES!

    Money does buy you advantages in life and I think it will always be that way unfortunately
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    • December 13, 2014 / 7:45 am

      I cannot believe they said that to you, and I bet you are enormously proud at how far wrong he proved them!
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  3. December 12, 2014 / 2:32 pm

    You make a very good point here – I hadn’t thought about the costs of going to interviews and I’m sure you’re right that it will deter some people. I was the first person in my family to go to University and was lucky that was in the days when fees were paid by LEAs and we also got a maintenance grant. I’m sure that I wouldn’t have gone to Uni otherwise as I wouldn’t have wanted to take on that debt. I hope that we follow Germany’s lead on this.
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    • December 12, 2014 / 4:02 pm

      I know mine is going to have to look for a part time job of some sort, we just dont have enough money to subsidise her much next year!

  4. December 12, 2014 / 3:55 pm

    With twin daughters at uni we’ve spent a fortune on open days and interviews for the two of them. Their student loan covers rent and tuition and that’s about it… which means that we’re always making sacrifices to help out. Not easy, but here’s hoping it’s all worth it in the end. Congratulations to your daughter for getting an offer at her uni of choice x
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    • December 12, 2014 / 4:01 pm

      Yes, I will have to look into what she will get and what we can afford to contribute for next year! At least mine will be there one at time!

  5. December 12, 2014 / 5:34 pm

    My daughter will be the first in our family to (hopefully!) to uni but she has been told that she can only go to one within Scotland as there’s no way we could afford to help her in England or Wales.

    I’m extremely grateful that Scotland has such low uni fees but can’t for the life of me, understand why this cannot be the same throughout the rest of the UK? We’re talking around £1500 a year compared to over £10k for the same course in England!!

    She has earmarked 4 universities, all within a couple of hours drive so again, we’ll be lucky attending interviews & open days. I feel so strongly that EVERYONE should be entitled to a higher education without the high fees, it’s so unfair on families that just can’t afford it (like us!)

  6. December 13, 2014 / 10:41 am

    Such an important post. I’ve obviously been living with my head in the clouds, because I knew tuition fees had got high, but didn’t realise they had got that high! I hadn’t considered the cost of the open days and interviews either – that has to be a big consideration. I can imagine there’s plenty of people who would struggle to find that sort of money (thank goodness for your Grandad’s money!).
    As for the grammar schools… I think it’s different round here, they are SO hard to get into that nobody feels a failure for not getting in at 11 and we have good comprehensives too. I think my son could have made it without any tuition at all, but we paid the princely sum of £5 a week for tuition for the duration of year 5!
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    • December 13, 2014 / 2:31 pm

      Yes, where I grew up it was all grammar and no comps (still is) meaning everyone sits the 11+, it is slightly different in your area where it is optional. And sounds like your tuition was a bargain, I know of parents who spent far more, but considered it cheaper than sending them to private school if they didnt get into grammar!

  7. December 13, 2014 / 12:08 pm

    I worry about this as I don’t think we could help our two much if they wanted to go to Uni – it’s such a shame that this could be the deciding factor about whether to continue education for so many people!
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  8. December 14, 2014 / 6:23 pm

    I’ve not had the uni experience with mine yet, all my 3 teens have gone straight into apprenticeships, one of which will pay for him to go through Uni as part of the apprenticeship – and he knows how lucky he is.
    Speaking to my kids and their friends I sense a bit of a shift in the outlook of younger people, it will be interesting to see how things alter int he next decade x
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  9. December 14, 2014 / 7:58 pm

    When I went to uni there were still grants. I think the current grant system is ok, as you say the repayments are small over many, many years. However I hadn’t considered the cost of visiting the uni. I didn’t have personal interviews for my courses but I did have a few lovely trips out to visit prospective courses and I have to admit I didn’t think at the time how my mom afforded this for me.
    My 9 year old is incredibly bright and already working at high school level. I did look into grammar schools for her but even with a scholarship it would be around 10000 a year. I nearly fainted. It’s a shame that those who could benefit from them are excluded or more rightly it’s a shame that many comps don’t cater for those who are exceptionally bright.
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  10. December 14, 2014 / 9:41 pm

    The world is so competitive today, I think education really matters and it’s such a shame that some people will miss out. My son will be doing the same as your daughter next year and he’s really conscious of the costs involved. Fortunately he’s working at Morrisons and saving every penny
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