Degree of caution for future students

NATIONAL UCAS applications are down by more than seven per cent compared with this time last year, as students face paying £9,000 tuition fees for the first time.

Saturday, 28th January 2012, 10:00 am

However, there is a sense of strong determination among the Barnfield College students and although they are thinking very carefully about their choices, for those that feel university is right for them, the tuition fees won’t put them off.

Barnfield South Academy student Benjamin Royston-White, 16, said: “We want to make the most of our opportunities and of our time at university if we go. The increased fees don’t put me off.”

Students at Barnfield South and West Academies can study at both campuses so that they can take advantage of the wide range of courses the College offers, both academic and vocational.

Barnfield West student Amy Dall, 18, and South student Ryan Sharma, 18, enjoy creative subjects but have opted for more academic degrees and secure career paths.

Ryan is hoping to read drama, but plans to do a PGCE to become a teacher afterwards as he knows acting is a difficult industry to break into.

Amy said: “After a long debate with myself I’ve finally decided to change the course I apply for. I wanted to do art but because of the increased fees I thought it would be better to do English literature, which I equally enjoy but which will give me a broader qualification. I think I might still be considering art if the fees hadn’t gone up.”

Amy and some of the other students voiced the desire to become independent and not have to rely on their parents for financial support.

For Benjamin and Saba Butool, 17, who are hoping to study medicine, fees are a worry.

Barnfield West student Saba said: “It will cost me £75,000 to study the five year course. Imagine being 25 years old and you’ve already spent £75,000. Having said that, I know that university is the right thing for me. People in my family don’t have degrees and they are doing well, running their own businesses, but for me I don’t see what else I can do. I know my parents will help me with money but it’s still a lot to think about.”

Benjamin said: “Tuition fees alone for medicine are £45,000. I have been applying for loans from banks to help with living costs but due to my age it’s hard to take out loans and I feel the government should do something to make that easier for us.”

For Jemma Bedford, 16, who wants to study nursing and midwifery, she is feeling the increased competition for places in her subject because the NHS subsidise the fees, making it a cheaper option.

A University of Bedfordshire spokesperson said they have experienced a rush of applications with biological sciences, nursing and midwifery courses being particularly popular.

Biological sciences is a popular alternative to medicine as the course is shorter and the required grades are often lower.

Jemma said: “The competition makes me even more determined to get a place. It’s something I definitely want to do and always have wanted to. The increased tuition fees don’t affect me but they make competition fiercer, and I still have to consider living costs.”

Jemma is hoping to study near her parents’ houses to save money – either at the University of Hertfordshire or near her mum’s in Cambridge.

The University of Hertfordshire was mentioned by a few of the students as it is local and has reduced its fees from £9,000 to £7,000.

Waleed Khalid, 17, said: “The fact it’s local, cheaper and has lower grades to get into definitely makes it more appealing.”

Barnfield West student Waleed would like to study economics or politics, and feels he knows where to look for information and advice.

He said: “I always talk to my teachers about it.”

Lucy Collier, 17, also feels supported by Barnfield College and has been looking at the prospectuses available in the Sixth Form common room.

She said: “I wasn’t thinking about university initially but this place has inspired me to go further.”

Olayinka Badmus, 17, is thinking outside the box and considering applying for law at universities in the USA.

She said: “It’s three times more expensive for tuition fees because I’m a student from abroad, but when I finish it will be easier to get a job compared to here.”

Tristin Owen, 17, wants to support himself and not have to rely on his parents’ financial help, so is considering an apprenticeship as an alternative to a degree.

It is clear that they have all given serious thought to their futures.

Head of Sixth Form at Barnfield South, Rob Mercel, said: “Many of our students are still determined to go to university, they know what the situation is but they are thinking carefully and finding a way to make it work for them. I think we will see a knock-on effect of the increased tuition fees over the next few years and it will be interesting to see the effect they start to have.”

Amy Howe, a 17-year-old Barnfield South student, said: “The rise in fees doesn’t put me off at all. When you look at what’s out there, all the loans, grants and bursaries that you can get to help you it’s really not a big deal. I want to go to university to get away, to live independently and to have the whole experience. It will definitely be worth it. It’s not fair that this is happening to us when everyone else had the chance to go to university for less money, but I know the government had to do something and now we just have to get on with it.”

UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: “Applicants are taking longer to research their choices but the applications flow has speeded up. It remains too early to make predictions about the final year-on-year figures but we will be able to get a clearer picture after the deadline has passed.”