“People are going into more debt to make ends meet”: the cost of higher education | The universities


gRowing in Redcar on the north east coast of Yorkshire, Kerry-Anne Revie, from a low-income background, thought ‘people like me don’t belong in Oxford’. The elite university wants to change this perception: in July 2019, it launched UNIQ+ – a summer school designed to widen the access of minority groups to post-graduate education, such as those who have been taken into care or who have received free school meals.

Revie spent six weeks in the biochemistry department at Oxford, helping an academic’s research into DNA transcription. The 22-year-old is doing an integrated masters in biological sciences at the University of Leeds and says UNIQ+ put her on a level playing field with her peers who could afford to do voluntary work.

It is one of many recent programs, from mentorship to financial aid, designed to boost postgraduate diversity in response to concerns Undergraduate debt deters people from staying in college. A study 2016 found that 2.4% of white students had started a PhD within five years of graduation, compared to just 1.3% of black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) students. A key factor is the financial barrier: only 1.2% of doctoral scholarships UK research and innovation research councils have been awarded to black or mixed-race students for the past three years.

Professor Paul Wakeling, from York University’s education department, said universities are “focusing on the bottom line” by prioritizing recruiting a more diverse range of undergraduate students rather than of postgraduate graduates – a decision driven in part by financial necessity. In order to charge the maximum undergraduate fee of £9,250, a university’s Fair Access Plan must be approved by the Office for Studentsbut only for undergraduate degrees and initial postgraduate teacher training, as there is no cap on postgraduate tuition fees except for initial teacher training.

“We need more regulation punch,” says Wakeling.

For its part, the government introduced loans of up to £25,000 (now £25,700) for doctoral students in 2018/19, and in 2016/17 loans for masters degrees worth £10,000 ( now £10,906) have launched. The latter has widened access to postgraduate studies: enrollment in master’s courses eligible for the loan increased by 74% among black studentsand by 59% among those in areas with low undergraduate participation – a disadvantage indicator – between 2015/16 and 2016/17. Both groups had previously cited finance as a major barrier to obtaining a postgraduate degree.

But the loans could “subsidize the rich” because they’re not based on students’ financial need, Wakeling says — you can get one no matter how much money you have in the bank. And they rarely cover all tuition and living costs, which can reach £30,000 a year in London, says Catherine Baldwin, director of recruitment and admissions at the London School of Economics.

LSE fills this funding gap by awarding over £13 million in scholarships a year, including need-based scholarships such as the Graduate Support Scheme, worth between £5,000 and £15,000 pound sterling. Baldwin says this helps LSE attract a wide range of nationalities, as well as students from across the UK, not just the South East of England.

However, Ginevra House, an independent researcher at the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), says recent progress in equitable access will be “eroded” if tuition fees continue to rise: “People will depend on working on time partial or bank loans who add more debt to make ends meet.

Since the introduction of master’s loans, universities have increased postgraduate tuition fees to cover the cost of ongoing courses; research programs overall make a substantial loss, she says.

A number of institutions, such as the University of Surrey, offer discounts to returning alumni. Photography: Tempura/Getty Images

Revie is seeking funding to potentially do a PhD in immunology at Oxford, but she remains undecided. While participating in the UNIQ+ program last year, the university’s admissions staff pointed her to sources of funding and shared potential admissions interview questions so she could prepare. Oxford will also waive its £75 application fee.

Additionally, UNIQ+ is paying a stipend of £2,500 and Oxford has installed Revie in venues in Jericho, a suburb of Oxford. Some students in the hallways were “snobby,” she said. When she complained that the bars closed relatively early at weekends, one joked: ‘It’s because everyone in Oxford works harder and does better.’

But the experience hasn’t deterred her from staying and indeed most UNIQ+ students are considering a postgraduate degree at Oxford or another Russell Group university, says Nadia Pollini, director of graduate admissions. She adds: “We were surprised by the response – in four weeks we had 200 applications for 33 places. There is a real need for that. We are trying to expand it. »


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