Professor Alison Wride, Principal of the Greenwich School of Management, explains how a university degree can be financially feasible.
With £9,000 in annual tuition fees now the norm, most undergraduate degrees will cost £27,000 in fees alone. This is to say nothing of the additional expenses amassed from living away from home and the three years of foregone earnings arising from the decision to pursue a degree rather than taking up full-time employment. The result is that many would-be students are deterred from entering higher education. The drop in applications seen this year, after years of growth in numbers, is almost certainly a reflection of these concerns.
However, obtaining a university degree need not be an insurmountable financial challenge. Many options exist for students when thinking about where and how to pursue higher education and there are a number of key considerations students can make to reduce the financial burden.
Independent higher education
One of the easiest ways to reduce the cost of a degree is to choose a high-quality programme with a lower fee. Some independent higher education institutions offer degrees accredited by universities consistently ranked within the top 50 in the UK, but that cost up to £3,000 less than studying for a degree at the university in question.
Independent institutions can charge fees that are lower than those at traditional universities for a number of reasons. There is no doubt that there are savings to be made on administrative costs and from having smaller property portfolios to manage; independent organisations are able to pass these on to students. In addition, while traditional universities use a high proportion of student fees to pay for research, independent HE institutions adopt a different model. In many cases faculty members are researchers, but this activity is not financed through student fees.
Accelerated degree programmes
Another way of reducing the cost of an undergraduate degree is by undertaking an accelerated programme. Traditional degrees involve study for no more than 30 weeks and in some cases students only attend for 22 weeks. An accelerated programme involves the same modules and the same achievement, but students attend for three terms each year, rather than two. The fees are therefore lower and in many cases can total less than £15,000. Students are also able to start earning a salary sooner and don’t miss out on as much potential earnings. While these two-year programmes are more intensive, they do still allow breaks, making them a manageable option for many students.
There are also additional academic benefits to choosing this option. Many students have found that without long breaks between terms, information acquired is less likely to be forgotten and study skills are more easily maintained, often resulting in better final marks. This option is a particularly good fit for those who are keen to minimise the time spent in study, whilst maximising their career prospects with a good degree.
Living at home
Living at home while attending university can also help to reduce costs. Average student rents in London are approximately £150 a week and the government estimates that a student in London requires £104 per week for living expenses. When looking to cut costs, students should consider institutions that are close to home and require an inexpensive commute to campus.
Focus on employability
Finally, it is important for students to remember that a degree is an investment in their own skills and knowledge, but that investment will only 'pay off' if they are rewarded for their hard work by obtaining a good job following graduation. In the current economic climate, graduate positions are difficult to come by, particularly for those that have not been appropriately equipped during the course of their degree with the skills employers are currently seeking. As a result, when choosing a HE institution, students should make sure their investment will yield returns by looking for institutions that emphasise the employability of their students. Lecturers with industry experience will know what employers are looking for and will make sure their students are equipped with the skills they need to be successful after graduation.
Every prospective student can afford higher education; student loans are available and grants are given to those with low family incomes. However, if students are to maximise the balance between costs and benefits, they need to take time to sift through and understand the many options available to them as well as research the institutions they are considering. This will ensure that the investment they are going to make will pay dividends far into the future.