Education Quandary: Our son was planning to apply to university after getting his A-levels but has now lost interest. Should we apply pressure?

HILARY'S ADVICE

Without knowing this student, and why he has lost interest, it's impossible to say whether pressure would be good or not. If he's prevaricating because he's feeling nervous, a firm hand of guidance might be just what he's secretly hoping for. But if he's made his mind up that it's not for him at the moment, parental pressure will only make him dig his heels in harder.

It's important that he understands the full facts of the economic situation. After all, children reared in an age of plenty see choice as a birthright not a privilege, and find it very hard to get their heads round ideas of scarcity and shortage

But, as this very anxious mother points out, if he doesn't apply for university this year then he will end up with a two-year gap between A-levels and higher education, and with hard economic times ahead who knows what this will mean.

And she's right. Universities took a £500m budget hit before the election, causing many of them to freeze or cut places, even though the number of applicants to degree courses is likely to be up by something like 12 per cent this year. So, we already have a situation where more students are clamouring to get into universities where teaching and research budgets are shrinking. And, although the coalition has yet to set out its stall on higher education, our dire economic problems means that whatever it is selling much of it is not going to be pretty.

At present its policy on tuition fees is to await the outcome of a forthcoming report by Lord Browne – although most observers expect to see an eventual fee hike, along with a higher rate of interest on student loans.

Although more university places were promised, this will mean nothing when set against deeper budget cuts, fewer places, poorer facilities, pay freezes and universities selecting lucrative overseas students over home applicants. Stiffer competition, higher costs and lower standards are inevitable for future students.

On second thoughts – start applying pressure now!

READERS' ADVICE

Let him go out and get a job and make his own choices. He will soon see that the kind of low-level work that is available to him is boring and badly paid, and that anything worth doing has qualifications attached. If you carry on supporting him he could drift for years.

J. P. Renney, Swindon



My 24-year-old neice has a debt of £17,000 from university and tells me this is lower than most of her friends. Yet she is only working as an assistant in a public relations office, and her friends all seem to be doing similar jobs. I cannot imagine how they are ever going to pay off their loans let alone start saving for their future. I honestly wonder if university is worth it these days, unless you do a vocational degree like medicine, especially if debts are likely to rise to up to £40,000 as they are now saying.

Sheila Bishnaw, Kent



Maybe it is your "pressure" that has put him off university? If that has been your answer to getting him through GCSEs and A-levels, maybe he has had enough and decided to take a break from it. Has he told you why he doesn't want to go to university, and whether there is anything else he wants to do instead? Let him take a gap year and get his head straight rather than pushing him into something he doesn't want to do. It's his life.

Paul Byron, London NW3

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

My daughter has always been in day nursery but they now say this could have damaged her development. It couldn't have been different as I have to work, but I am worried about how she will do when she starts school in September. I'd hate her to be at a disadvantage. Could I be doing something now?

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