Posted on 08/05/11 in Blog

So the first year of my six year marathon to get an English Literature degree is almost over. All assignments have been duly completed and marked and I just have the end of module assessment left to tackle. However, since I began, the academic environment has changed and is now looking somewhat different – about £27,000 different.

Studying with the Open University means that my contact with other students has been somewhat limited. However, I am a member of a facebook group of people all doing my course and currently standing at over 1,000 strong. The reasons why people are on the course are many, varied and endlessly fascinating to me. Hardly anyone seems to be just there for fun and there aren’t nearly as many Third Agers as I had supposed. Instead there are lots of people who need a degree to change their life’s direction, progress their career or because their health prevents them from following the more traditional route.

There are also a fair few young people who are going down an online route because it is simply far more financially viable. Not only are the fees considerably more reasonable but distance learning allows you to fit your studies in around a job so that you can support yourself as you go and don’t have to incur all the expense of living away from home. I’ve been very impressed so far. The course material is excellent and leaves what I gleaned from one or two of my flesh and blood lecturers standing and the support that I have had from my tutor has also impressed me.

And this has got me thinking. Until now I had only really thought of two possibilities with regard to my own children’s post school education. Either they would want to go to university or they wouldn’t. I kind of assumed that they would want to go and that making a sizeable contribution to the cost of that was something that we, as parents, would strive to do.

But is that the right approach now? I  Back in ’85 when I left school, going to University was what me and my friends did next. We took our A levels and either got the grades and went where we’d hoped or we found a place through clearing and did something that sounded like it might be fun. Very few chose a different path. However, a lot of the people at the OU seem to be deciding that incurring the necessary levels of debt with no guarantee of an increased earning power at the end is not a risk that they are prepared to take. Many of them seem to have rejected the traditional appeal of a brick university for the flexibility of a course undertaken in your own time and at your own pace.

The downsides of this are obvious though. My second degree is a personal challenge and something that I am somewhat self indulgently fitting in between my other commitments. How far would I have got I the cut throat world of corporate law with an LLB from the Open University? Obviously I can’t know the answer to that but  I can have a jolly good guess. But maybe as more and more people choose to undertake their higher education in a less than traditional way, these stigmas will be eroded?

Now that it’s become so expensive and will result in a lifetime’s debt, youngsters may begin to wonder if it’s really for them. Unless they have a vocation or are truly bright, is it really the right decision to delay entering the work place for three years or might they be better finding a job and then studying for a degree should they need one in an alternative way? Maybe there are other ways of skinning the cat? Just a thought.


Other people's views

  1. Absolutely. From a purely selfish point of view, I've been thinking of doing a degree in art history for the fun of it once I'm retired, and have recently realised that doing this at eg Leeds or Manchester will probably be out of the question as it will simply cost too much – and that's before I know whether I'll get the pension I've been counting on – and contributing to – for more than 30 years. I've concluded that the OU will probably be the only way to do it. The vicious circle of this for universities is obvious, as they presumably depend on some people like me as customers.

    My children have just got their first degrees or are on the way to getting them, before the fees get hugely jacked up. Even so they have big debts, and that's with us helping them as much as we can, and with them earning what they can during the courses too. And are people aware that while you don't pay back loans until your income is a certain level, the loan keeps rising as interest is added? Economically this whole system doesn't add up. We'll see meltdown soon in one way or another.

  2. Nice and interesting read. The OU is simply awesome. The content is as challenging as brick unis, they all explore the same ideas and texts, and brick uni lecturers ARE the majority of OU tutors.

    There is still some stigma surrounding OU qualifications, but this is only by ignorant employers. I would argue that the majority now class the OU in line with normal brick unis, and some even prefer OU graduates as they usually have far more work experience and have shown great time-keeping by working and studying simultaneously.

    As for economics, why get upwards of £27,000 debt JUST for fees, let alone the cost of accommodation for 3 years? Why not work and study part-time, or even full-time and earn enough to pay for all your 5-6 year tuition in just 1 year? No debt, no hassle, and varied and interesting life of both work experience and study.

  3. Couldn't have said it better myself! As a single mum I simply could not have afforded to go to uni… instead I work part time, gaining experience in my chosen field. Now I have a new partner, and a new baby on the way and yet I still manage to work and study. it is not only the financial implications that affected my decision, but the flexability; I have decided to take a break until January so hopefully the new bubba will be all settled, and yet I can do any number of free courses through OpenLearn to keep my mind active, and I am sure will look great on my CV!

Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.