Ministers have recently been advised they should consider an increase in tuition fees for undergraduates taking courses such as law and medicine.
The report suggested many undergraduates were not opposed to the idea of paying higher fees for ‘prestige’ courses which led to higher salaries. But critics fear this will freeze out cash-strapped students.
Meanwhile, a government-commissioned independent review, led by the former BP head Lord Browne, is currently considering whether to raise tuition fees to up to £7,000. It will report after the general election.
Here, our panel – made up of four students studying dentistry at the Peninsula Dental School in Plymouth – considers these proposals.
Morteza Mazinanian (MM), 23, is one of the third-year dental students and also the student parliament rep for this year. Fleur Stoops (FS) is in her second year at the school, James Robbins (JR) is another dental student, and Bijal Sisodia (BS) is a 25-year-old second-year dental student.
Would you have embarked on a dental course if it had cost more than others?
MM: To me, this would not make any difference as dentistry has been my lifelong ambition, especially knowing that support is available from both student finance and the NHS.
But if these supports were not in place, I might have thought twice about it.
FS: Yes. Peninsula is a four-year course and the NHS pays our fees for years two to four.
If the NHS were not paying fees, I would have to think twice and assess finances. Although, dental course costs more to deliver in comparison to a history degree.
JR: I think I would still have embarked on the course in the knowledge that the NHS would fund three of the four years, but I wouldn’t have even started the course at the current tuition fee rate if this wasn’t the case.
BS: I would have liked to have embarked on a dental course, regardless of its cost in
comparison to other courses, simply because I am interested in the profession itself, not whether it is more cost effective. I would have tried my best to secure funding and finance myself. However, the prospect of studying and working would have disheartened me simple because of the demands that stem from the programme.
Do you think it is fair to differentiate in this way?
MM: It’s easy to understand the ideology behind this decision but, in terms of availability, I don’t think it’s fair to take this opportunity away from those of a lightly poor background as these subjects might be what they have always dreamed of doing in their future.
FS: Yes, the costs involved in running a dentistry degree are significantly more than those involved in, say, a history degree. Although if the NHS pays the fees, maybe it should think about getting new dental graduates to work for the NHS for three years after graduating? In this way, the NHS deals with its shortage of dentists and the students can repay the NHS. After all, the NHS has paid their fees – it’s the least they can do!
JR: I think they have a reasonable argument but, as with anything, it would be difficult to draw a line in deciding which courses would incur an increase.
BS: I don’t think this is fair at all. Education shouldn’t be an opportunity, but it should be a right that all students are entitled to – regardless of financial situation or background. It is hard enough getting into further education with the high requirements that courses such as dentistry rightfully demand, but to add a price that only some can afford surely is discriminating. The government, I feel, should be emphasising equal opportunities. Furthermore, bearing in mind the economic climate at present, the government should be encouraging students to go into further education and making it easier. Failure to do this will only result in more individuals claiming benefits. If the government wishes the generation of ‘today’ to contribute to the economics of this country ‘tomorrow’ then they should be encouraging further education not creating further obstacles in accessing it. Finally, as a society we try our best to adhere to equal rights in the work place however by restricting access to certain vocational paths due to lack of finances it is simply propagating diversity rather than uniting it.
In your opinion, do you think university is affordable for everyone?
MM: University is almost certainly available to everyone as there are supports available through student finance, NHS and – in most universities – from university itself.
FS: No, not really. It is becoming very elitist. Why should those from working class
backgrounds be discriminated against? University should be available for everybody with the relevant academic results, not just those from middle-class backgrounds.
JR: No, I don’t think someone who has no help from parents could enter a course and live on the support available without saving first, working during or entering serious debt.
BS: No, I don’t think that it is, and more should be done to make it affordable for all. Better yet, make further education free! Introduce the old grant system allowing equal opportunities for all regardless of their background. I feel that there are individuals who do struggle to make ends meet. Not only do they have the pressure of keeping up with their studies; they also have to work so that they can afford to study. This puts undue stress on students and jeopardises their performance within their course. I also think that vocational and medical courses such as dentistry offer individuals invaluable tools that are there to help society. These tools are also globally transferrable and applicable and, for this reason too I believe that university should be made affordable for everyone.
‘The gap between the rich and the poor in the UK is at its’ highest since the Second World War. We can see it in our universities.’ Is this the case with your dentistry course?
MM: It certainly is not, as we have students from all backgrounds – some of whom are from a very wealthy background, while others can barely be thought of as middle class.
FS: I would agree. There are many students on the course who are from middle class backgrounds. Mummy and Daddy buy all of their books, pay their rent, buy them a car and give them an allowance every month. Then there are some students who are working at weekends to get through, and taking graduate loans of £20,000 from banks in order to get through the course.
JR: No, I think there is a continuum of affluence on the course with no real divide.
Would you recommend this dentistry course?
MM: I would absolutely recommend this course to anyone that loves facing challenges every day and is ambitious to make change in their own as well as others lives.
FS: Yes. It’s enjoyable despite the hard work, and the job prospects for dentists are encouraging.
JR: Yes, definitely.
BS: Yes, definitely. If you have the ambition to be a dentist and you truly believe that you could be good at doing so, you should follow this ambition through.
‘Candidates from moderately well-off families who miss out on grants and bursaries may be opting to go straight into work or study abroad instead of paying fees of up to £3,000 a year.’ If you were starting your course all over again, would this apply to you?
MM: If I was to choose, the UK would be my first choice as the level of education provided here is almost second to none, and if I can get to the university of my first choice, then it’s all the better.
FS: I am a mature student so its a bit different for me. I am completely self-sufficient; my parents don’t give me any financial help, and at age 35 I don’t expect them to. Although I will still graduate with debts of around £30-£40,000. For dentists, it’s a bit different. Your earning potential means you will be able to pay off debts quicker than, say, a history teacher. So, for me, I would always choose to study for a degree as opposed to going straight into work.
JR: If it was my first degree, yes, because I would get very little help from the NHS.