Students attending university straight from school, and with 40 years to repay their student debt may feel their education merits an increase in fees and interest rates, but for mature students the threatened increase creates the prospect of repaying loans into pensionable age.
Mel, a English Language and Literature student in her second year at Winchester University, talked to me about how it was to be in her 40s and deciding to study towards a degree. “The aspiration was always there, but after I failed at school I’d always thought I’d blown it,” she said, describing the process of removing the obstacles that have been in her way as, “Discarding the veils of obstruction that were put there by the education system in the 1980s.” She continued, “I didn’t like the education system, and found it difficult to even turn up. In truth I probably had medi cal problems which affected my concentration,” adding, “ Back in the 1980s it was not readily accepted that medical problems affected the ability to study.” She said she had no concept of how to write essays or study, thinking it was more a question of “What information went in, went in, and what didn’t, didn’t.”
Mel attended an access course in Romsey which was a life changing time for her, and taught her the concept of study. She now has a cohort of students on her degree course who studied access with her, and freely admits the main reason she applied to Winchester was location. She says her ‘posse’ has expanded to embrace students young and old, and found the transition to university education effortless. She was also attracted by the Japanese exchange programme and is excited by the possibility of a semester in an exotic country.
Like most students Mel was uncertain about funding, and was delighted to learn she was entitled to the same loans and grants as younger students straight from school. Many students are now anxiously awaiting news of the spending cuts to be levied on higher education, and the threat of doubling the tuition fees. Like other mature students, Mel faces further anguish after waiting what seems to be a lifetime to take the thrilling, but daunting step of studying for a degree, only to be faced with debts that cannot be repaid over a short period before retirement. It may be that the long dreamt of aspirations will have to remain just that – a dream, if higher education fees double and interest rates on loans increase.