Is University all it’s cracked up to be? The lifestyle, the future prospects and the pitfalls. I look at the facts and alternatives to university.
Going to University, for some teenagers, is a great milestone. They’ve worked really hard through school and college to get the grades they need to have the opportunity to go to university. Looking to the future, the big wide world. Moving house, all that money that they can get, the lifestyle they will lead, partying, getting bladdered nearly every night and the comradery it brings. Not to mention the super high-paying job they’ll get at the end of Uni, with that degree they’ve spent countless hours burning the candle at both ends for. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?
I never went to college or university. But, looking back I would have loved to experience it. Knowing what I know now, as an adult and a parent, however, I think that’s all I would want to do. Just have an experience of it. Don’t get me wrong, I do think universities are great. The possibilities they can open up are amazing. The facilities some universities have are out of this world. And I fully understand that certain courses are only available at universities. But looking at the bigger picture is Uni the best option?
A father’s view on universities.
I read an article online in which the author writes his thoughts on whether a university degree is overrated or not. And I must admit, he makes some very valid points. Well in fact I fully agree with the entire article.
At the time of writing this article, my oldest daughter is now at the stage where universities are very much a topic of conversation. There’s a lot for her to consider. Which uni to go to, which one is best for her requirements. Which city will give her the lifestyle she thinks she’ll lead and so on. I know, I know, the last remark seems cynical, but, I’m her dad and there are facts to back up my cynicism.
The truth about universities
I know I haven’t been to university, so it seems a bit hypocritical to be commenting on such things, but I am more than fully aware of family and friends who have attended university and have helped people in the past who succumbed to the ‘Uni Life’.
It’s without doubt, that universities open doors for people’s career prospects. They have great facilities, great lecturers, a lot come from the backgrounds that they teach. The education you get at uni can be second to none.
University nightlife is unreal. I’ve been on a couple of “student” nights out in the past. And it’s unreal. Clubs, Bars, Restaurants, you name it, they all offer student discounts and they know how to throw a party. If you attend uni, leave your liver at home.
The mix of cultures at uni is phenomenal too. You will meet so many people from so many backgrounds that it will entice you to travel the world and explore new possibilities, you never thought of.
Are your kids ready for university?
Explain all of the above to your kid and they will jump at the chance to attend university. I would!
But can you honestly say your kids are ready to leave home to attend uni? Let’s look at it with a bit of an open mind. I wrote an article about teaching your kids about money and how we should prepare our kids for the future and be financially independent. Is an 18-year-old fully financially independent and mentally focused and prepared to move out of the family home to then start a new life miles away? Pay rent, pay bills, go to uni, party and be fully responsible for their own actions and deal with the consequences? I’m not entirely convinced.
No disrespect to my oldest daughter, but she can’t even boil an egg, so I’m not sure how she will be able to cope independently in the semi-real world. It does worry me slightly, that there is an element of “lifestyle” focus and the status going to uni brings more than the actual academics of it. But they have to start somewhere I guess. University is a good way to get them started in the real world. But does it reflect the real world?
I’ll skip over the sometimes, terrible living conditions some students have to live in, where landlords charge an extortionate and disproportionate amount of money for a bed per month. Or the sometimes cramped halls of residence, where you can guarantee a mouldy pot noodle is sitting on the corridor floor somewhere, or the stench of weed coming flowing through the corridors.
I’ll get straight to the nitty-gritty. The bit where our kids don’t fully understand what they are getting themselves into. Student debt is a concern for Mrs F and I. Straight off the bat, we have to now pay an admin fee to UCAS just so our daughter can apply to universities. Then there is student finance.
At the time of writing this, the average tuition fee is around £9,000 per year. Some people can afford to pay for this and that’s great. But there is such a large proportion of households who are entitled to student finance, a lot of people just apply for it and then get it. Lets look at the figures. As an example, based on a household income of £26,000 per year and a student moving away from home. A student would be entitled to the full tuition fees upto £9250 for a full-time course.
On top of this, they would be entitled to up to £9488 as a maintenance loan. This would cover basic living costs, rent, study materials, etc. Let’s say the course is a 3-year course too. By the time your son or daughter leaves the university, roughly around the age of 21 they will be in £56,214 worth of debt. £9250 + £9488 x3 = £56,214
The reality of student finance
I’m not being stereotypical or presumptuous, but what teenager is going to see the figures and see £56,214 as a debt? All they will see is that’s roughly £6,000 every three months, that they will get into their bank account. That £56,214 needs to be repaid. It’s a loan after all and the interest is quite high.
There is a positive to this though. The debt will be written off after 30 years. It’s basically a graduate tax, so it’s deducted from their wage. That is if they earn over £27,295 a year.
This makes no sense to me at all. You effectively get a loan of £56 grand. To avoid paying it back, just keep your earnings below £27k, which doesn’t give you much room to be a high flyer. However, if you decide to go big and get a really good job that pays really well, after 30 years of repaying the debt, whatever is left will be written off anyway… and even then after 30 years, you’ll have only paid off about £17,000 of the debt.
I suppose the student should really focus on the educational side of the university as when you look at figures and the process of student finance, it’s actually not that bad long term.
Student finance doesn’t affect their credit rating and isn’t applied to their credit reports, but they can still be chased for the money. Does this really reflect real life? To me, it comes across like we’re teaching our kids that it’s fine to be in debt, pay as little off as possible, and at some point, it will be written off. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. It’s totally nonsensical.
Alternatives to university
There are quite a few options available to students in the UK these days to give them different pathways. Some students, may not be ready for the whole uni life. Others will be wanting to choose a different route and others may want to just get straight into work with an entry-level job and work up.
I’m not trying to dissuade people from attending university, but I feel, sometimes, students are primed and pushed into university due to the status it sometimes brings to the parents. “my son/daughter is at university”, and also some colleges to give them to the opportunity to stick another big banner on the fence saying how well they did.
Going to uni does give a higher earning potential, but that’s all it is. A potential. Not a definite. I know plenty of people who have succeeded massively and never attended university.
These are a great alternative to Uni. It gives your kids the opportunity to gain a degree, while also gaining on-the-job experience and vital workplace skills. and the best bit… no debt. The employer and government pay for the tuition and training fees. The student will also be paid a salary and get the usual workplace benefits like pensions etc.
Foundation degrees combine academic studies and work experience. You don’t get paid as you would with an apprenticeship, but do have work experience. The Student finance eligibility applies to this foundation degree. A Foundation Degree is a bit more than half an Honours degree. At the end of your foundation degree, you can opt to ‘top-up’ your degree with another year of study and this would then become a full honours degree.
Higher Apprenticeships are basically a Foundation degree and Degree Apprenticeship mixed together. You gain a foundation degree, but also are employed by an employer and receive a wage. Again, the employer and or the government pay for this, so… no debt!
Traineeships are just short courses with work experience. They help students prepare for full-time work or a full apprenticeship. A bit like a taster.
This is self-explanatory. Get your child to work. An entry-level job, in the field they are looking for a career in. Once they’ve got the job, they just need to work hard and work upwards. Even if that means they are the tea boy or girl.
Finally, there are a lot of smart kids around. Entrepreneurial, energetic, creative, TikTok influencers, content creators, and so on. It doesn’t have to be an overnight success, it can just be a fulfilling alternative to academics. There are plenty of mentors to help with running a small business.
What advice would I give to my kids?
I can only advise my kids. Mrs F and I won’t push our kids to do something they aren’t comfortable doing. That said, we will ensure our kids make an educated choice.
I think COVID-19 has shaken the education system up and many more new and exciting opportunities and alternatives to university will become available to students, such as the new T-Levels, remote learning courses, and the like. Something that my 2 younger kids will have the opportunity to review over the coming years.