Prospective students no longer so scared of £9,000 fees


Prospective students no longer so scared of £9,000 fees

I got a bit stumped on Thursday on the weekly Consumer Panel hour I do on Radio 5. The subject was the new up to £9,000 fees for new student starters in 2012, on the back of applications closing Sunday (yesterday now). There were three prospective students on, so I was poised to rebut the usual misunderstandings but each when asked said something akin to: ‘No, I’m not worried about the fees, I was at first, but I’ve done the reading on them and it’s not as bad as I thought’.  

While it left me slightly stumped on what to say; it was music to my ears. This isn’t the first anecdotal indication that the message seems to be getting out there. Those who don’t religiously read this blog (tsk tsk 😉 ) may not know I head up the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information.

I was appointed to it not long after berating politicians that if they were going to change the system, they at least needed to explain to students how it worked (see taking on a taskforce blog). The group is independent of government and has Universities UK, UCAS and the National Union of Students, amongst others, on the core committee. The aim is to give apolitical info on how the new system will work.

With very limited resources our primary focus has been to explain how it works to potential students, their teachers and parents – rather than wider society.   

And I do think some headway has been made. Many 6th formers (or equivalents), have a much better idea of how the system works (note we’re now switching to part time and mature students as their applications close later) and seem to be less panicked about it than society in general.

Free resources

To do this, as well as having a ‘student finance day’ in November, we’ve loads of resources out there…

  • The apps: The "Uni Fees 2012" app we have for iPhones and Android.
  • Info for teachers: We’ve sent a teachers’ guide to every school in the UK, and downloadable teaching lesson plans to help teachers work through the various issues with the students
  • 6th former guide: Deliberately written to target younger prospective students with less experience of finance, the 6th formers’ student finance guide has been hugely requested by schools (as well as downloaded a lot by parents).
  • Parents guide: Often it’s parents more than their off-spring who are more panicked, so there’s also a parents’ guide to student finance 2012, which runs through the important things parents need to know.
  • Student finance calculator: This student finance calculator was built by the MSE team to help try to answer the ‘how much will it cost me?’ question.
  • 20 things you need to know: The student finance 2012 guide is my original guide that the others are based on, and hopefully it covers everything that anyone else would want to ask too.

Of course we’re not the only ones doing this – there’s official info from the Government and the Student Loans Company too – though, biased as I am, I think ours is in a different league to the more constrained messages in those guides.  

Will applications fall?

What will be interesting now, will be to see the result on applications overall. Earlier in the year they were down double digits. I hope to see that drop lessened substantially when the actual figures come out on 30 January. 

They will be down a few percent due to demographic changes and the fact some students rushed through the gates last year to beat the fee hike, but I hope and suspect it won’t be as drastic as was originally feared.  

That’s not to say every student should go to university, just that they need to understand the true cost even with the much criticised hikes in fees, not the fear laden invective we’ve seen in some newspapers trying to grab headlines. After all, if you don’t understand the cost, how can you make a rational decision on the value?

Related past blogs