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The cost of university

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Karen Miller Karen Miller | 15:54 UK time, Monday, 7 November 2011

On Wednesday at 2pm on BBC Radio Scotland, sixth year student Robin Drummond is continuing to question Is A Degree Worth the Paper It's Written On? Alasdair Drennan is a third year history student at Edinburgh University who Robin asks about how much it costs to be a student. Here Alasdair expands on his thoughts on the cost of his degree.

Alasdair Drennan

University is always going to be an expensive undertaking. A four year degree at Edinburgh will still cost me in excess of £24,000 in spite of the fact that the Scottish Government pays for my tuition. The cost of rent, bills, books, food and the occasional night out all mounts up. Rent in Edinburgh for students is one of the highest in the country. Working during summer does not go very far to make up these costs and at the end of my degree I will owe both the government and my parents a great deal. The concept of paying tuition on top of the existing costs is frightening.

Of course, at the end of all of this, I hope that my degree will allow me to enter into a career which will enable me to live comfortably. However, there are frightening statistics suggesting that this may not be the case. Whilst it is an incredibly interesting subject, there is no clear career path waiting for a History graduate other than being a 'historian'.

We are incredibly privileged in Scotland to have a free education which includes an undergraduate degree. If I were to be asked to pay fees of £9,000 each year for a degree as will be the case for English students next year, I would certainly question the value of the degree and whether the expense would offer a return.

It is difficult to see what this money is spent on. I do not believe that £9,000 is good value for what the university provides in a year. The facilities and teaching at Edinburgh are very good but for the amount of contact time I receive I would be paying over £60 per hour for teaching. Of course, even this looks small compared to the £12,000 per year paid by international students for which there is no government support.

Also, given that there is no guarantee that a degree will enhance career prospects in any way, £36,000 of debt on fees alone would certainly make me think twice about studying the subject I am passionate about as opposed to a more vocational course with a more obvious career at the end such as Law or Engineering.

In saying this, the university experience clearly has unique value. It is a time where you have the opportunity to try and get involved in sports and activities that you would never normally have had. From playing Ultimate frisbee to writing weekly in a student newspaper, there really aren't many things you can't try whilst at university. If fees or a graduate tax of some kind were to be introduced, knowing what I do about university, it would definitely not be an experience to be missed out on.

Finally, cuts are being made across the board and education spending is in decline. If funding for primary and secondary schools is threatened to allow me to go to university then there is an enormous problem that requires immediate attention. I am essentially at university so that I can get a well paid job and live comfortably in the future. In spite of my concerns, I fully expect to earn back the money I have spent thanks to what I have gained from my time here at Edinburgh. I would not have been here had I not had a good education at school and this must be where the government's priorities lie. School is where a person's future prospects are determined, university simply acts to enhance them.

The second part of "Is a Degree Worth the Paper It's Written On" broadcasts on BBC Radio Scotland at 1405 on Wednesday 9 November 2011.


  • Comment number 1.

    This article assumes that no viable alternatives to attendance based degree level courses exist. The article begins with the statement "University is always going to be an expensive undertaking". This is not necessarily the case as more and more franchised, private providers offer degrees through flexible, affordable means. For example, the Interactive Design Institute provides degree courses in design based subjects entirely online and in a variety of study patterns meaning students can study part time or through a "fast track" option meaning that students can work while studying or reduce the period of study thus decreasing the amount of debt they accumulate. We need to radically rethink how we deliver education in the UK. A number of factors - including the escalating cost of a traditionally delivered degree - have altered the consumers expectations and the providers ability to deliver an attractive product at an acceptable price - as indicated by Mr Drennan's comments.


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