Grants or loans? That’s not the problem.

I’m late to this one, but I’ve just read the Telegraph’s article on the NUS survey that found more than half of students thought the maintenance grant was absolutely essential for them to be able to go to University.

Well, newsflash: it isn’t – and here’s why: surveys are really good at giving opinions, and opinions are really really easy to get wrong.

Think Jeremy Clarkson, Katie Hopkins or anyone else who you’ve disagreed with lately or who popular opinion (read: what the media people think will sell papers/subscriptions/get clicks) dictates is currently not someone we should like.

Every single student who is currently at university has, if they’re in the right income bracket for one, got a maintenance grant and, if they want one, a maintenance loan and tuition fee loan too.

So, it’s not really all that surprising that when asked “Do you agree with us taking away this free thing you get?” gets a no. In fact, it’s surpassing that just 35% of the tiny sample said it’d make a difference to them.

To me, the maintenance grant cut isn’t really a cut but more a cost-saving change. First-time students will still be able to get their hands on the same amount of money for maintenance, it’s just that they’ might have to pay it back eventually.

That’s not great- because we’d all rather have free stuff than stuff that costs – but it’s also not terrible. It won’t physically stop poorer families from sending their kids to better themselves at Uni, and my guess is that in reality it won’t affect the numbers of applications UCAS sees either.

All despite the massive glut of unemployed graduates that we’ve got – and perhaps that’s the problem.

We really like to discuss and deride the growing cost of heading to university, quoting figures most 18-year-olds can’t even comprehend, but at some point should the conversation not switch round to whether University is worth it?

We need to remember the point of educating people

The reason we like to send people to have some more education is two-fold. Firstly, having a better-educated population is good for us because it means that people contribute to society and advance our technology and achievements. Secondly, higher education allows graduates to do jobs that earn them more money and that, in turn, helps get families up the ladder too.

That two groups benefit means that logically there’s two people picking up the tab: society as a whole, paying for the contribution graduates will make when they’re done, and the individual, making an investment so that they see greater returns later in life.

So it doesn’t matter whether graduates end up with £3,000 debt or £50,000 as long as the consequential earnings are enough to pay down that investment and still earn ‘more than you would’ve’ – right?

The headlines of £50,000 of debt (which sounds a lot, I admit) and surveys like this one from the NUS that support them, are just unhelpful distractions from what we must admit: we don’t need everyone who currently goes to Uni to go and study what they are studying. And it’s nothing to do with whether they’re poor or not.

We have quite a few unemployed graduates just hanging around, or doing menial jobs, to support the case that we should probably be a bit more discriminatory in our universal offer of University.

Not, as you might assume, by locking poor people out of university but instead by subject. By making our investment, as well as each person who choses to take up higher education’s investment, count a little bit more we could easily cut the number of unemployed graduates.

As the NUS survey shows, people like free stuff over not-free stuff and in these ‘times of austerity’ we must pick what we can and cannot fund, so would we not be better targeting our resources where we really need them?

If you want to complete a degree in a subject we don’t ‘need’ you to study then you’re welcome to do just that, but you’re going to have to take the risk that you’ll never pay off the £50,000 debt you’ll end up with.

On the other hand, if you fancy completing a degree as a scientist, or a doctor or something else that we desperately need then we might just see it that you come out with half that left to pay off yourself.

And, of course, there’s no need for any of this money to change hands until you’re earning. No poor people locked out of higher education but a substantial return on the millions we’re investing each year both financially and as society.

Given how the fee system is set up, it’d be ludicrous not to make our investments work a bit better for us wouldn’t it?

Photo by John Keane

Obligatory new year post

It’s customary, cringey and actually, I think, quite natural at New Year to think about how the past year has gone and that leads itself quite irritatingly nicely into thoughts on how one might want to feel in 12 months’ time. Who am I to buck a trend that has its roots in the many failings of our forefathers and has the nice side effect of causing those irritatingly healthy gym-regulars a bit of mild irritation for a few weeks? No one, that’s who.

Sticking with predictable cliches, I want to brand 2014 as a year of change but just the process of writing this down here has convinced me that I’m wrong, at least partially. I think it’s more accurate to brand 2014 as a year of reversion and upgrades. Both are types of changes, yes, but they’re significantly different to sitting down in January and plotting out the five things I hate about me  with a mission to try something new instead.

Let me explain briefly.

In the last 12 months I’ve moved in with my partner (upgrade), and moved to a small rural town with a population of about 16,000 (reversion) and I’ve started a job I really enjoy that pays me enough that I can live, not just survive (upgrade) managing digital communications and content (reversion). Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s a theme that’s present in most of the things I’ve done in 2014.

So I think that coming out of 2014 I’m just a tiny bit better than I was in 2013, and that’s a good thing. But it wasn’t, as you might say, by purpose.

I’m quite excited for 2015, and here’s why: After 364 days doing a job I’ve loved, I’m starting a new one on 5th January – and at the moment, I love what I’m going to be doing just a little bit more because it means I can start doing some proper learning again. I’ve missed that. I’m also pleased that I’m getting back on top of my finances: I should have paid off  my student overdraft by May this year – a small value, but a massive impact on the way my mind reacts when it sees my bank balance – and there’s a timeline to getting other debt paid off too, which is great.

In 2015, I’m going to try and try out wild camping, driven by my belief that I’ve just not seen enough of the UK yet and I’m going to try and make it through the year with my job title intact: an interesting and varied CV is one thing but I’d like to try and make sure I can still fit five years of job history on one sheet of paper.

So, onward I go to 2015 – properly starting on Monday of course – and the year I become 25. I’ve long thought it sounded a nice kind of age (and by proxy year) and I’m going to keep doing more of the same to make sure it is.

For my blog here – well, it’s more of the same but with probably more focus on the more. This post probably doesn’t fit in well, but thanks for reading all the same. I hope you’re excited for the next 12 months too.

Nic x