Maryrose Fison: Don't protest – just find out how to get a degree without paying a fortune
Sunday 14 November 2010
They came in their droves. Armed with placards and chants, tens of thousands of university students descended on the capital last week protesting against plans to hike tuition fees from 2012.
Yet for all the furore and calls for free university education, the demonstrations were largely futile. The Government has reiterated its plans to lift the cap on tuition fees, which will enable universities to charge up to £9,000 per year on some courses, and the perception that a tertiary education is some kind of God-given right is beginning to crumble.
But the reality of impending fee rises is less worrying than the screech of angry students may suggest. It is true that the cost of studying on a degree course in Britain is likely to rise, but there are myriad ways to overcome this financial burden which few seem to have grasped.
As a member of the European Union, British students can apply for a place at thousands of universities across the Continent. While some countries charge tuition fees, many do not. Universities in Finland, Sweden and Denmark, for example, do not charge British students any tuition fees and offer many programmes in English.
Other countries, such as Spain and Germany, do charge, but the size of their tuition fees are small when compared with those expected in the UK. In Germany, for example, a British student could expect to pay approximately ¤500 (£425) per semester in tuition fees with an additional ¤50 registration fee per semester, but there are some länder (federal states) which still do not charge at all. Spain, too, has a record of charging low fees, with the average cost of a bachelor programme costing between ¤1,386 and ¤2,880, according to the website www.studyineurope.eu.
As well as being less of a financial burden on young people's wallets, studying abroad can be invaluable when it comes to increasing a graduate's job prospects. Immersion in another country can boost language skills as well as develop life skills and enrich an individual's sense of cultural awareness.
But if moving abroad isn't an option, there are other ways to fund an education in the UK. Hundreds of grants, loans and bursaries are available for young people who are prepared to do their homework. Many blue-chip companies offer scholarships to young people showing signs of academic promise. And generating relationships with organisations which could become future employers ahead of graduation can only be a plus.
For those of a military persuasion, the Army offers a wide range of bursaries for young people prepared to undergo officer training after graduation. The Army's Undergraduate Bursary currently offers £6,000 for a three-year course and £7,000 or £8,000 for four- or five-year courses respectively.
For parents who want to plan ahead, saving a small proportion of earnings into an ISA or regular savings account is one of the best ways to build up a sizeable pot to be used for a child's tertiary education.
Putting away £150 per month for 18 years will generate a savings pot of £32,400 after 18 years, without adding interest and before taking inflation into account. If £150 is too steep, a £50 contribution over the same period will provide £10,800 after 18 years.
And for parents without the luxury of 18 years to build up a sizeable savings pot and for young people without a well-padded savings account, now may be time to think about the overall benefit of a university education.
The idea that a university education guarantees a job after graduation has been disproved many times in recent years, with record numbers of graduates unemployed or forced to work in temporary jobs which have few criteria other than knowing how to use a photocopier and type.
While vocational courses such as medicine and architecture are obviously a necessity for those seeking jobs as doctors or architects, the value of other degrees is far less clear-cut. Media studies may be fun for some, but when it comes to getting a job, graduates may find themselves in the doldrums.
Lacking relevant experience was no impediment to award-winning businesswoman Michelle Mone, who left school at the age of 15 due to a family illness, and went on to set up one of the most successful lingerie companies in the UK.
Bill Gates, the world's richest man for most of the past decade, famously dropped out of Harvard to go and set up Microsoft. Sir Richard Branson never went to university at all, but set up his Virgin empire, among the most successful privately owned businesses in the UK.
The world is filled with shining examples of people who went against the grain of conventional wisdom to chart their own paths in life and make a success of it. A degree may tick a box on a CV but self-motivation, imagination and focus are equally important when it comes to achieving life goals.
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