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Thursday, December 9, 2010 / Duncan Forgan

My Student Life ends – and so does Many Other’s


A week ago today, I defended my PhD thesis and passed (with minor corrections, which I’ve nearly finished!).  Today, student tuition fees are set to rise (in England), up to £9,000 per annum.  As my student life officially ends, I can’t help but feel like I somehow cheated the system.

I did my undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University.  As a Scot at a Scottish university, I didn’t have to pay tuition fees (although I did take out a small student loan, which I am now paying back).  My postgraduate degree did have tuition fees, but the STFC studentship I was awarded paid for them.  I haven’t had to pay any tax until now – and while undergraduate life was considerably more frugal (despite taking summer jobs), postgraduate life has been very comfortable.  Now, I am an official grown-up, and therefore an escapee from the merry hell that is descending on higher education.

This vote by the coalition government (some of whose members made a pledge not to do this, see above) doesn’t directly affect Scotland, but it is a sign of the times.  How long can Holyrood grit its teeth against such bitter economic winds before it has to capitulate? After all, these fee increases are being proposed to fill gaps in funding left by budget cuts – what financial Polyfilla will Alex Salmond have recourse to use?

It grieves me that, as many have noted, these measures tax the younger to pay for the education of the elder.  All those who graduated before loans were introduced in 1994, I’m looking at you.  But now I have to look at myself, too – it won’t be long before I will be looked upon with envy as someone who received very high-quality tutoring at knock-down prices.  In fact, this reminds me of a similar situation where, as I was enrolled in a 5 year degree, I avoided being liable for the Graduate Endowment of £2000 thanks to an SNP measure, whereas my colleagues who started in the same year as me but were 4 year students had to cough up, not hanging on long enough for the bill to pass.

Such iniquity only breeds contempt.  I could very easily ignore these problems and continue on my merry way, with the swagger of a highwayman who knows how lucky he was to get away scot-free from this particular hold-up.  But I feel responsible, and so should we all, whether we went to university or not.  Graduates are an important component of any nation, developed or developing.  Whenever you visit a doctor, lawyer, dentist or accountant you are speaking to a graduate.  We should all be paying for higher education (but not all forms of higher education!), as we all benefit from its fruits.  We should not be lumping the cost onto soon-to-be-impoverished individuals when we will have to write off the debt anyway.

Mr Salmond, when you come to choose your revenue raising measures, please choose a more equitable one than Westminster has.

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