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Can higher educational costs in the UK be an opportunity for building EU citizenship in Brit teenagers?

Student Protest: Liverpool Walkout. Students protested against rising tuition fees and university funding cuts in November 2010. Photo by Matt Baldry via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Alex Francis, a 21-year-old Games Art & Design British student, has just started the first year of his degree at Norwich University College of the Arts, and pays £8,500 (US $13,500) per year in tuition fees. However, his friend Paul, in his third year of the same course, is paying around £3,300 (US $5,300) per year. With no extra value added to his education, Francis will be spending £15,000 more than last year’s freshers.

“Higher education is a con,” Francis says. “It costs me an obscene amount of money, but it’s still not enough to fund the universities. If I’m lucky I get taught for an hour a day. I’m told I’ll start paying back the loan once I’m earning over £21,000 [US $33,000; per annum].”

But Francis says there are no jobs out there, with or without a degree. It’s a broken system. “The politicians got their degrees for free, now they’re pulling the ladder up behind them.”

Alex Francis.

Francis is not alone.

Students in the UK have been demonstrating against what they feel is an unjust increase in the tuition fees, and the National Union of Students will demonstrate again on 21 November, 2012 in central London.

Alex Etches, a member of the national youth committee for the trade union Unite who studied Politics at the University of East Anglia says, “It is an absolute scandal that the government has trebled tuition fees for students at the same time as stripping away the education maintenance allowance.” He believes that ordinary working people are being made to pay the price of the banks’ bailout and the young are at the sharp end of this.

“Being either unemployed, heavily in debt or working for poverty wages is as good as it gets in Cameron’s country,” he says, having in mind Britain’s conservative prime minister David Cameron. “The message given by their education reforms is clear: there is no future for you in Cameron’s Britain.”

Moreover, the increase of the tuition fees for undergraduate studies since September 2012 of up to £ 9,000 for UK and EU students was not homogenous within the UK. According to the Independent Commission on Fees, there are 15,000 ”missing” applicants for undergraduates courses in the UK, compared to previous years.

The situation seems to be complex and discriminatory, and also depending on where you are. In fact, in England British and EU citizens pay £9,000 p.a. for undergraduate courses; while in Scotland, non-Scottish UK citizens pay £9,000 p.a. whereas Scottish and EU citizens only pay £1,820 p.a. And again, in Wales all Europeans pay £9,000 p.a. for undergraduate courses except for Welsh students who will pay on average of £3,375 p.a., while also in Northern Ireland non-Northern Irish UK citizens pay £9,000 p.a. whereas Northern Irish and EU citizens pay £3,465p.a. for undergraduate courses.

“This is not something new, and it is not something unique to the UK. In Scandinavian countries for instance, university education is free of charge for EU citizens and quite costly for non EU citizens: 6,200 to 13,900 euros p.a. in the University of Southern Denmark as an example,” Gérard Spencer, founder and director of Europeducation, said in a recent interview.

Gérard also explained how important it is to make future undergraduates aware of the more affordable university courses taught in English across continental Europe and the benefits they could earn:

  • Learn a new language while studying in English;
  • Have an enriching multicultural experience abroad;
  • Save at least £20,000 in tuition fees, enhancing at the same time graduates’ employment options in England and abroad.
EUROPEDUCATION team on the launch night - 26 June 2012

EUROPEDUCATION team launch night – 26 June 2012.

British students have an option, such as going to another EU country to undertake their degree.  But those opportunities are not really advertised by schools and the media, and the opportunity of studying abroad feels remote and costly.

According to Gérard, “The government does very little to promote higher education, outward mobility and the benefits that result from such experience. In most cases, the UK media coverage of studying in continental EU is negative: it is considered as an escape, it is for those who have not achieved good A-levels [high school leaving exams] or the quality of university education is just not as good.”

For tomorrow’s English undergraduates, a degree in continental Europe is an incredible opportunity to gain invaluable international experience and foreign language skills, live a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, save approximately £25,000 and enhance career opportunities in today’s tough economic climate.

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About The Author(s)

Hussam Hussein

Hussam Hussein

Researcher / Journalist

Working experience from the European Parliament and the Italian Embassy in Amman, Hussam has also been working for the World Bank, in Washington DC. After his studies in international relations at the University of Trieste (Gorizia), at SOAS, and at the College of Europe, Hussam is currently a PhD student at the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich. He developed his reporting skills with Th!nk About It 3, 4, and 5 and participating in a reporting trip in Kenya. His interests are water, climate change, and private sector development.

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