Published on February 7, 2013 | by Mikkel Christopher Stern-Peltz0
Valuing mature students a step in the right direction
As David Cameron and Nick Clegg renewed their coalition vows, there was more bad news for university students.
The first victims of 2013 will be prospective postgraduate and PhD students, who will see draconian cuts to the funding of master’s degree courses and doctorate schemes.
MA and MSc courses will lose all funding, and the UK’s already poorly-funded research doctorate system will be cut by a fifth. Also, research councils that award grants for academic research have stopped funding master’s degree studies that are not part of a doctorate, due to financial shortfalls.
University students already face up to £27,000 of debt for a three-year degree, excluding living costs, and will now have to consider adding upwards of £10,000 to that figure for a postgraduate qualification.
Predictably, higher education application figures have dropped substantially, indicating that young people fear the prospect of crippling debt, despite naïve Tory reassurances that it would not be an issue. The fact is that with ever-rising living costs, young people are right to question the logic of putting themselves so deeply into debt.
For every £3 spent on education society gains £9, making education one of the most profitable investments available to a government, but we are unlikely to see any backtracking on fees or funding from the coalition.
However, if the government wants to avoid education issues in the future, it would suit them to improve access for mature students to degree courses.
Without the fear of missing out on a university education, A-level students could spend a couple of years working and gathering life experience. Not only would this mean that they have the opportunity to get a job and save up for university, but it would also mean that they have a chance of making a more considered decision about what to study.
For many people, the first degree that they choose turns out to be a poor choice, and they may end up losing interest and dropping out, which means more debt for the student and less value for society.
Teachers and fellow students could also stand to gain if classes had a higher proportion of mature students, as they tend to be more motivated and therefore more disciplined in their studies, as well as having more life experience which may benefit younger classmates.
Applications from students over 21 have dropped in recent years, and the government has also cut access courses. This creates further barriers to a university degree. If the coalition wants to avoid a massive educational gap in future generations, recognising the value of mature students could be a small step in the right direction.