Why you should accept your place at university even though there’s a pandemic

This week thousands of students will make the decision on whether or not to accept a place at universities with an uncertain future of what university life will actually look like. If you're confused, read this.

by Nathalie Olah
17 June 2020, 4:30pm

Image via Pexels

Tomorrow is the last day for thousands of students to decide whether or not to accept a place at university. If that’s you, and you come from a normal, working or lower-middle-class family, where you’re worried about the future and what to do next, I want you to listen up. Debates have raged in recent weeks now about the impact of Coronavirus and proposals for lectures and tutorials to be digitised: Does this constitute value for money, and how can I justify it when university education is already so expensive?

That question, while the current focus, is not the right question to ask. University should never have been reduced to a question of value or return on investment. I also want you to know that you absolutely should accept your place. Here’s why.

The anxiety you’re feeling right now is as a result of the decision making of successive Tory governments. This moment, right now, in your life, should have been an exciting one and you have David Cameron and Nick Clegg to thank for the fact that it is overshadowed by stress and anxiety. The decision to hike the cap on fees from £3000 to £9000 a year in 2012 was a political decision that punished normal, working families the most. It remains one of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s most damning legacies, along with the litany of austerity measures that caused pain and suffering to millions of people.

Just as private-school kids have the luxury of being able to study for years without fear of plunging themselves or their loved ones into debt, a humane society that values its citizens allows everyone the same freedom. In Germany and the Scandinavian countries for example, university is free. Across most of Europe, higher education costs less than £1000 a year. Having lots of people with university degrees increases the competitiveness of the economy, and should therefore be funded through the state -- by hiking the rate of corporation tax and introducing a wealth tax, for example -- rather than asking individuals to pay more and more.

You deserve to be as eligible for jobs as any of your European peers with the same interest and passion for their subject. For this reason alone, you absolutely should accept your place at university. But that doesn’t solve the practical question of how to pay for it, of course.

What you should know is that university debt isn’t really debt. Or at the very least, it is unlike any other debt that you will ever accrue over the course of your life. 80% of people never pay it back in full. And neither will you. Many people have even campaigned to have the student ‘loan’ renamed as a ‘graduate contribution system’.

This is the part that the government doesn’t want you to know. You are not obliged to pay back the entirety of your loan, and if it isn’t paid back within 30 years, the debt will be written off. What’s more, what you do pay back will be calculated in proportion to your earnings. At the moment, that refers to 9% of whatever you earn above £25000. Earn below that figure and you won’t pay a penny.

Future student loan debt does not affect your credit rating, either. So regardless of how much you’ve paid, you’ll still be eligible to apply for things like phone contracts, finance plans and mortgages. With all that considered, it would be foolhardy, if not downright stupid, to over-pay your contributions as the loan companies often encourage you to do. It’s why student debt has been officially removed from any calculation of government debt. It simply doesn’t expect to get it back. Yet by keeping this information somewhat under the radar, and letting fees increase to the extent that they have, the Tories have specifically tried to push normal people like you out of higher education and prevent you from accessing the same jobs as their middle and upper class cronies.

You can’t let them. The scare-mongering around whether university will be ‘worth it’ in the wake of Coronavirus plays directly into the government’s hands, by dissuading more people from low-income backgrounds from pursuing the education that is rightfully theirs.

Take it from someone who’s been there and done it: lectures in person constitute one very small part of a university education - personal and close reading, meaningful, one-on-one conversations with people who share your interests and the opportunity to meet experts in their field, are really what matters.

Keep hold of that fact when you click accept, and in September when and if you arrive on campus let the injustices of education spur you on to learn more about the policy decisions and cultural biases that keep working families like yours at a disadvantage. Use your higher education for the purposes of dismantling the current system and building a better alternative for the future. And hey, the job market will probably be less competitive when you graduate, owing to the fact that the public school faction has already deferred and has started planning its gap year.

Seize the opportunity. Don’t let it go to waste.

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