Is there a skills shortage? Of course there is. If I had been required to mortgage my future for 25 years to go to university, I would not have gone. I benefited from a maximum grant and, supplementing it with work during the holidays, I was able to finish with a zero balance in my bank account – no savings, but definitely no debt.
My son has returned from his first term at university with a debt from his loans – £1,000 for fees and £1,000 for maintenance (supposedly for living costs, which was all taken up paying hall of residence fees) – and a £400 overdraft, which he needed to top up the £400 grant/bursary to pay for everything else. The overdraft, of course, is not at preferential ‘student’ rates. Bank shareholders are doing well out of our students, that’s for sure.
How does the government plan to sell the idea of further and higher education to achieve its target of 50% of 18-year-olds attending university? I can see the brochures now: ‘It’s your future – how do you want to spend it? For just £30,000 over 25 years, you can acquire the skills today’s politicians got for nothing. Once qualified, you will have a slim chance of getting a high-paid job where, as well as paying back your ‘debt to society’, you will also pay a higher rate of tax.’
Personally, I admire the girl next door, who has taken a job as a dental hygienist and is studying for her degree with the Open University.
But it will take a particular kind of vision and determination to see that through, and it’s not the answer for everyone.
I already have trouble convincing my second son that it’s a longshot that he will make it as a rock star. As he watches his older brother struggle with his debt, how will I persuade him to go to university and go on to help close the skills gap?