To study in Manchester for a semester as a Dutch student is great. I can enjoy the friendliness of Northerners, the incredible music scene, and feeling like I am attending Hogwarts whenever I pass Whitworth Hall. What helps me enjoy this city, however, is that by joining the Erasmus scheme, I continue to pay my home universities tuition fees.
In short, paying four years of tuition fees at a Dutch university equals just one year of fees in the UK! These fees don’t even include the cost of living or additional costs for books and bus passes. Not only that but semesters here are shorter, by more than a month and a half, and you have far fewer contact hours. You are literally paying more for less.
High tuition fees are problematic and unfair for various, obvious reasons. If we compare UK tuition fees with other European countries, the UK definitely comes off the worst. Students in the United Kingdom pay up to £9000 a year for undergraduate studies. In Austria and Scandinavia, EU students pay no tuition fees whatsoever. In Germany costs amount to a maximum of €400, and in France, the top rate is €1300.
Some justify the high fees because the quality of education in the UK is generally higher, and it is true that some of the best universities of Europe are based in the UK. But not all of us are going to Oxford or Cambridge, and so a number of UK students are being left with massively higher debts than other European students. This sets them behind in their further life when trying to borrow money, buy houses, or travel.
Whilst it is a very good thing that more and more people are going to higher education, arguably it is devaluing a single honours degree. Therefore adding pressure onto students to do an extra masters to stand out and ultimately get caught in even more debt. Students accrue ever more debt under the neo-liberal banner of ‘investing in yourself’, but this affects some courses of study more than others.
Students of science, medicine, or law usually find a job easily and are generally well paid, whereas those in the humanities or social sciences are less certain of such a financially stable future. High tuition thus discourages, especially for poorer students, choosing humanities or social science study because of the less certain financial turnover. This could lead to anxiety about paying off student debts. However, we need more than just lawyers, doctors and managers. We also need teachers, writers, and philosophers to contextualize and help us understand the world we live in.
The UK is, of course, not alone in its fight for affordable and quality education. Recently, the Dutch government announced huge budget cuts on education. This is highly problematic due to already burned out teachers and oversubscribed classes.
We have a right to follow good quality courses with personal attention that allow us to engage with topics deeper. From all that can amaze me about the English in my time here, I am most surprised by the lack of outrage about your tuition fees. My message to you would be to not take your education for granted and stand up against unreasonably high fees.