How not to deter poorer students from university: our response to Amol Rajan in the Independent

This is our response to Amol Rajan’s article in the Independent.

While it is true that for some universities their record on access is, frankly, shocking, it is not true to say that less people should be going to university or that most university courses are a bad deal for students.

Firstly, there is no evidence that the rise in fees has deterred poorer students from applying to university.

And even if that were true the UK will actually need more graduates, not less, to meet the challenges of the future. More jobs than ever before now require a higher education qualification, whereas the number of jobs for non-graduates are declining. If poorer students are not going on to higher education there is a good chance they will never access the top jobs of the future.

There are also significant economic benefits of attending university: individuals receive an earnings premium of £115,000 over their lifetime, the government gets £94,000 benefit through financing an undergraduate degree and UK higher education exports are estimated at £8.7 billion! Not to mention the fact that those with higher levels of education tend to live longer and healthier lives.

While students now have to borrow more money to attend university they only pay it back in proportion to their income (income contingent loans). So if they graduate from university and don’t find a job they do not have to repay their student loan. And if they graduate into a low paid job – like starting as a nurse on £21,000 per year they still pay nothing back on their loan. It is only when they start earning over £21,000 that they begin to pay back their student loan, and even then they can be paying as little as £5 per week on a salary of £25,000.

In addition university does not have to mean choosing between academic study and practical learning. Many university courses offer the opportunity to spend a year in industry as part of the course. For example, Nottingham Trent University’s LLB (Hons) Law is a sandwich course which allows students to spend their third year on a paid placement with a law firm. Students are able to take advantage of Nottingham Law School’s strong links with the legal profession and put their learning into practice.

I agree that higher education should always be about people choosing the right course for them. And for some people this will not necessarily be choosing to go to university at age 18. But there are all sorts of different routes in and through university, with other experiences to be gained – from meeting lifelong friends, to trying your hand at student radio, to spending time working at the BBC’s Media City alongside a degree at Salford University.

University is not for everyone. But misinformed articles such as this one only serve to discourage non-traditional students from applying.

Further reading