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Tuition Fees and the Gap Year

Rachel Bell teaching in Tanzania with Africa & Asia Venture

Date added: Monday 15th November 2010

The information that we have to date provides no indication as to the Government’s thinking on the relation between gap years and tuition fees, nor for that matter do we know how the universities will approach the issue.  This is disappointing especially as those applying for Oxford and Cambridge and medical schools have already submitted their applications.  Sadly it seems highly unlikely that there will be any arrangements for those that wish to defer as the circumstances are different this time.  With effect from 2012 the money passes to the universities and, once the bill is passed, they will be free to set their own fees.  This means that if a university allows a student to defer entry in 2011 and agrees that he/she may start their course in 2012 and not pay the new rate then it is the individual university that will be out of pocket as it will have to make up the difference.  I think it most unlikely that this will happen.

I fully understand that this will create a dilemma for this year’s leavers, who had set their heart on taking a gap year.  They will feel that the debt they face when they graduate will be ghastly and their parents will be urging them to secure a university place in 2011 if they possibly can.  But not taking a gap year could be a disaster if they rush into university unsure why they are there and on the wrong course to boot.  They may then drop out and find themselves reapplying under the new regime anyway,unnecissarily increasing costs further.  The benefits of taking a gap year vis à vis performance at university and increasing employability remain unchanged.  Indeed they could be more important than ever.

I am also concerned that the media is over-emphasizing the burden of the debt.  They only seem to interview students planning to go to university or undergraduates, who see only gloom ahead.  But the majority of recent graduates who have paid the current rate of tuition fees seem to be managing.  These recent graduates get their monthly pay slip and the loan repayment sits alongside their PAYE and their NIC.  It does not seem to be a great problem.  The class of 2012 will not graduate until 2015 or 2016.  There will be different interest rates depending on the job the graduate secures.  Students in more highly paid jobs will have to pay a higher interest rate but I suspect that many of their employers will develop schemes to help repay the loan.  They will not pay anything until they are earning over £21K, a much fairer system than the current £16K benchmark.  If they take time out perhaps to return to full time education to take a masters, take work and pay tax overseas they will not pay off their loan while studying or overseas.  The young women who take time out to have children will not repay their loan while doing so.  Indeed those that stay at home to bring up their children may never pay off their loan as the outstanding amount will be written off after 30 years.  The long term view is not as gloomy as the media make out.  This has been confirmed to me by several foreign acquaintances whose countries have had similar schemes for some time.

In future it is going to be even more important that students make the right choice about university.  Should they go to university or straight into a job?  If university is their choice then taking time to make the right decision over which university and which course will be more important than ever.  It strikes me that it must be very difficult to make these choices when fully focussed on the final year at school and getting the best possible exam results.  Would it not be far better to take a year out in order to have time to consider their options, to find their feet in the real world and to start making the transition from dependence to independence without these pressures?  All the historical evidence, albeit mostly anecdotal, suggests that providing they use the year out wisely then it will have a positive impact on their future at university and beyond.  With this in mind perhaps schools’ careers staff could continue to advise on university choice for up to two years after a student leaves.

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