University funding: more protests to come?

Where is current student disillusionment heading?

Mike Barnard of leading graduate recruitment website Milkround Online asks where current student disillusionment could be heading.

The level of unrest among students and graduates towards the government may not yet have reached its peak with the attack on the Tory HQ. The London march organised by the NUS sparked a turnout of around 50,000 protesters standing up to the government's plans to make higher education increasingly expensive for prospective students. Public unrest will surely continue until the question of how universities are to be funded in the future is resolved. Just how these issues can be sorted out, however, is proving increasingly tough to answer.

Money, money, money

While there has been a drive to encourage school leavers to go to university over the last ten years, questions have been raised as to whether doing a degree is worth it these days. In many cases it may well be, however research by XpertHR in the form of their annual graduate recruitment survey found that graduate starting salaries have declined by 6 percent in recent years, even when there were signs that the economy was recovering. News such as this is sure to add fuel to the fire of those questioning the value of a degree. One of the traditional arguments in favour of going to university is that a graduate will earn more over a lifetime than someone without a degree, but this reward is far from immediate and is likely to be lessened still in the future as it has now been suggested that all universities soon will be charging around £7,000 or more a year in tuition fees. There needs to be an indication that graduate salaries are going to increase for the next generation for university to be seen as a financially viable investment.

What is also interesting in the XpertHR findings is that graduates are encouraged to apply to large firms and the private sector if they want to earn the best wages, therefore suggesting that the public sector cannot support them as well financially. It is ironic that the government is so keen to increase tuition fees, when the work that they are offering provides the least reward to graduates at the start of their careers.

Don't need no education

It's no wonder that students and graduates feel undervalued. Once students and their disposable income were seen as ripe for the picking by businesses. But now many future students must be thinking "I can't win", as they may need to spend significantly to go to university, putting an end to having any disposable income for years and making university life a three-year budgeting exercise. That may appeal to the financially-minded and appear to teach respect for money, but the reality is that for many the sums don't seem to be adding up in favour of a university education.

Until that fact is recognised publicly by the government, we're likely to see a repeat of the scenes at Millbank.