Globe, United Kingdom

Education comes at a cost in the UK

David Cameron is allowing British universities to charge up to £9,000 in tuition fees, resulting in debt for young Brits, before they’ve even begun to build their own lives.

Iria Leiros Perez

The economic crisis has hit the most underprivileged hard, leaving them without work. As a consequence, many are now homeless.

The majority of those worst affected by the crisis are people with little education, and those who moved into skilled labour jobs at an early age.

Prior to the crisis it seemed like societal attitudes were changing.

Now the value of having an education and the need for a degree is fully appreciated, as a means of opening up more opportunities in the job market.

There is no doubt that society’s future lies in education. In order to make progress, a society needs good healthcare professionals, architects, engineers, environmentalists…

But the damaging consequences of the economic crisis have also affected this highly prized sector, with rising university fees making it even more difficult to dig ourselves out of this hole we are in.

We live in a society in which debt has become our currency.

We get ourselves into debt to buy houses and cars, and now even studying so that we can create a better future for ourselves is causing us debt.

This is certainly the case in England, where David Cameron’s government has allowed universities to charge annual fees of up to £9,000.

Great Britain – along with the United States – is one of the most expensive countries in the world when it comes to attending university.

But not every nation in Europe follows the same criteria. In some European countries, for example, Poland and Germany, university education is free.

By Country

Financially speaking, access to a university education varies greatly from one country to another within Europe. In the German capital, for example, public universities are practically free; students only need to pay an annual administration fee of €240, which covers transport costs.

In the southern half of Europe, however, payments are made based upon family income, which is reflected through the income tax return. The poorest classes are supported through grants and subsidies. The same thing happens Spain, where new university fees cost around €1,000 per year.

In France tuition fees vary depending on the course, a degree costs about €170 euros per year, and a Masters course costs around €230. The price rises to €350 for a PhD course, and €560 for engineers. It is even cheaper in Greece, where students do not need to pay tuition fees, or for the textbooks needed for the course.

On the other hand, Portugal and the United Kingdom have experienced the biggest changes with regards to financing further education.

In Portugal, up until 1992, students used to pay an average of €6 per year. Today,  for example, studying a law degree at the University of Lisbon costs an average of €999. The UK is currently the most expensive country in Europe in terms of tuition fees, which can cost up to £9,000 per year, following the new measures introduced by David Cameron’s government, justified as a solution to the economic crisis.

The United Kingdom?

Unlike Spain, where students pay university fees with a little help from their parents, as well as grants from the Ministry of Education, in the UK, students become indebted to the State. Universities directly ask the State for a loan, which must be repaid with interest.

In general, enrolling in an English university costs around £3,000, on top of which students must also take into account the cost of rent, food and transportation. Following the adoption of the new measures, however, prices may soar by up to £9,000 per year, resulting in the need for students to take out a loan.

Students starting a course in Britain this year will end up with a debt of around €75,000.

Students must begin to repay this debt in the April following their graduation. As far as students starting this year are concerned, they should start repaying their debt in April, 2016.

The new measures state that students only have to start repaying their debt as long as they are earning more than £21,000 per year (around £1750 per month). If students are working, then the amount owed to the government for their education is taken directly out of their salary, with no trace of it left behind.

If, for example, a student loses his or her job, the amount of debt already repaid is retained until such as time as the student can begin to make repayments again.

However, students who leave halfway through a course also have to pay back the debt they owe to the State.

Although the debt becomes void after 30 years, the problem then becomes: “what will happen to all those debts that haven’t been repaid?”

These measures have proved very unpopular in the UK, resulting in a decrease in the number of university enrolments for 2012. This directly punishes the middle class, who will not receive any grants or subsidies, and will face a high level of debt. As is the case with students who have to work because they receive no help, without these grants, the middle class will have to combine their studies with all kinds of part time work.

As a consequence, an increasing number of medical students are turning to prostitution as a means of paying back their debt, as this degree is one of the most expensive in Britain.

There appears to be a risk that universities will become elitist in the face of these new measures, and in the end, the upper classes will have an easier time dealing with debt, whereas the poorest classes are being scared off with the threat of being in debt for the next 30 years. Many universities will also increase fees in order to be viewed as more prestigious when compared to more expensive universities.

Thus, the future driving force of the country will become embroiled in debt from an early age, an age when it is difficult to know whether the course you have chosen is really the one you want, or the one that will meet all your expectations.

These measures have provoked criticism from economic experts, who believe that education is key to a country’s progress. As such, we can only hope that this increase in fees is not closing the door to a whole generation, eager to go out and show the world their worth.

(Translated by Marie-Thérèse Slorach  – Email:

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