Education, but at what cost?

University is an expensive business these days. SHELLEY MARSDEN takes a look at the pros and cons of sending your son or daughter to university in the UK and Ireland…

IN Ireland, it takes parents an average of eight years to send their son or daughter off to college, with costs estimated to have risen to around €1,000 a month.

According to a survey carried out by the Irish League of Credit Unions, four out of ten parents have had to use money from savings accounts, and seven out of ten said the rise in university costs were hitting their finances in a negative way.

Moreover, the research suggests that one in ten students in Ireland who are eligible for a grant have had to drop out of college altogether after delays in receiving it meant they couldn’t afford to stay at university. Now just one third of students live away from home, compared to 49 per cent in 2011.

Students in Ireland may be struggling to make ends meet, but the situation is even worse in England and Wales, with applications to UCAS down for a second year running.

Since 2011, the maximum cost of tuition fees in the UK has been increased to £9,000 a year. Research on state-school pupils has revealed that for 57% of potential university students, the biggest barrier is fees. Pupils cite not lack of ability but worries about getting straddled with too much debt and lack of financial resources from their families as reasons to say no to third level education,

The Ipsos Mori survey of 2,500 11-to-16 year-olds at state schools, funded by the Sutton Trust shows that efforts to get more pupils to university are stalled. Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Trust, said the government and education sector need to do reconsider means-testing tuition fees.

“It is clear that many young people remain worried about the cost of higher education. Graduates face debts of over £40,000 with the higher fees and many will be paying for their university studies into their 50s.”

When tuition fees were first introduced in the UK in 1998, when the fee was £1,000, they were means tested. Means-testing ended in 2006, when fees of up to £3,000 a year were brought in.

The difference in fee arrangements between England and Ireland has prompted more potential undergraduates in recent years to consider studying across the water instead. In Ireland, the cost of things like rent, bills, books and food may add up, but fees are significantly lower, at €2,250 euros per year.

UK students can qualify for the Free Fees Initiative in Ireland as they are EU citizens, provided that both they and their course meet certain requirements. Applicants from Northern Ireland students who opt to study in the Republic can do so completely for free if they qualify for free tuition fees as EU citizens and their student contribution fee is paid for by Stormont’s Department For Employment and Learning (DEL). In the North, students that stay at home are currently looking at fees of up to £3,465 per year.

Scotland is also an attractive proposition for some. Sixth form pupils in the UK that have Irish passports qualify for free university tuition there, an anomaly which means that they are counted as EU students, while UK students from outside Scotland who hold British passports must pay.

Emma’s story

Emma is heading to Nottingham University to study French and English

Despite the hefty financial considerations of at least three years of fees, Emma Collingsworth, from North London, who has family roots in Laois, Dublin and Kerry, will remain in England for her degree course.

Emma, who was awarded an A*, A and B in her A-Levels and an A* in her Extended Project Qualification, and has been accepted to study English and French at Nottingham University, said:

“I know it costs a lot these days, but the idea of not going to university was never an option to be honest, it was the obvious path for me.  I know there’s debate about this, but I still maintain that having a degree makes you more employable than not having one.

“I think going to study in Ireland, for example, where fees are significantly less, is a great idea for some -but personally I was never tempted to study away from England. I don’t want to be too far from home, plus I’ll be taking out a Student Loan which should help with costs. You can pay it off in small instalments, and don’t have to start paying it back until you earn over a certain threshold.

Emma, whose parents will cover her accommodation costs, has chosen the cheapest accommodation option available at her chosen university- a shared flat with communal living room and bathroom, to save as much as possible.

She says she wouldn’t rule out the possibility of part-time work to make some extra cash: “I want to avoid it if possible, at least during my first year, but if needs be I’ll think about taking a part-time evening job if the bills at the end of the month if the cost of bills, food, books and fees gets too much.”

The cost of attending university hasn’t stood in her way, but money, as it is with so many young people about to being university, is an issue that Emma can’t ignore.



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