Leeds: Premium fees for premium degrees?
Leeds Trinity University College is the only one out of the city’s three degree-awarding institutions left to announce its tuition fees for courses starting in 2012.
Leeds Metropolitan University settled at £8,500 a year – just £500 short of the maximum fee of £9,000 imposed by Leeds University. When Leeds Trinity confirms its degree price next week, Leeds could become a premium-cost city to study in. It is hard to believe that this has become a reality in just one year.
As the general election drew to a close back in April last year, American economist David Hale delivered Bank of England governor Mervyn King’s prophetic warning to political parties. “The election winner of 2010 will lose power for 30 years,” he declared ominously, like a Harry Potter character announcing the return of the dark lord.
The political wizard this time last year was Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg who was riding a wave of adulation.
The televised debates were acting as a catalyst for “Clegg-mania”, which saw the Sheffield Hallam MP relish the opportunity to prove himself on an equal battleground with Brown and Cameron. “I want to be Prime Minister,” he declared. “We can turn anger into hope,” his party manifesto – launched on this day last year – enthused.
At the same time, he signed a National Union of Students pledge not to vote for higher university tuition fees if re-elected in May. “No one raises the question of his sincerity,” wrote Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland. Students and professional political commentators alike lined up, attentive, converted.
Few could predict the events that would unfold over the next year with the formation of the coalition government and the new Deputy Prime Minister’s negation of his pre-election pledge. Clegg’s reputation and popularity diminished as universities began to declare their intent to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees for courses starting in 2012. For many, the prospect of going to university changed dramatically.
In November, over 1,000 Leeds University students protested in the city centre over the proposed fees increase. Their efforts were in vain, as the university announced it would be charging the maximum amount in April.
“It’s really highlighted, for me, the corruption in politics,” said second year Leeds University geography student Sarah Ryan, 20. “The way Nick Clegg went back on his word was shocking and I realise now I was too naïve about politicians when I voted. Next time I’ll research much more and be more critical.” With over 250,000 students studying in Leeds, the future of many more young people studying in the city is suddenly not so clear cut.
Just two years ago, Leeds Met was the only higher education institution in the country charging just £2,000 a year. That figure now sits at £8,500. Lord Woolmer of Leeds, chair of the university’s board, told Times Higher Education: “It is essential that we remain able to invest in high quality university education and facilities for our students.”
Chris Walton, a Leeds Met music technology graduate, is not convinced that the increase in fees will represent value, or a rise in the quality of courses offered. Asked if he would have still enrolled on the same course with the new fees, he said: “I would reconsider. Leeds Met is only really a leader in technology, sport and health. I would look elsewhere for maybe a university with a better reputation, especially if I was going to study a more academic subject.”
The BBC reported that if fees were set at £7,500 for a three year degree, plus maintenance loans, a middle-earning graduate would need to earn, for example, an average of £48,850 for 26 years to pay off their debt. Such figures could have a dramatic impact on university enrollment figures.
When asked if he thought that degrees would be more valued by employers after the fees increase, Chris said: “No I don’t. From my experience a degree doesn’t even hold water any more. All employers want is that you can show you have the skills and experience. Why have over £40k debt for something that might not help you out?”
On the other hand, Leeds University student Sarah Ryan doesn’t think that the vast amounts of debt guaranteed upon graduation should affect a student’s decision regarding where to go. “It depends what financial support there is throughout the time at university, and what the repayments are like afterwards when I’m earning,” she said.
“If there’s a system in place so that I can afford to live – with money for food, rent, travel, supplies and leisure, for example – it wouldn’t deter me.”
Leeds Trinity University College – a smaller, campus based institution in Horsforth – is expected to announce its fees next week. The college – which offers over 40 courses, including NCTJ-accredited courses in journalism – has an opportunity to undercut its rivals in a bid to attract students to the city.
If it decides not to, Leeds will complete the transition into a premium-rate city for higher education, with its graduates guaranteed to be acquiring degrees under the acceptance of leaving with thousands of pounds of debt. The impact will be hard felt, but will it all be worth it for students in the end? Only time will tell.