Life as an A-Level politics student is pretty simple. I scout the news headlines for Boris Johnson’s latest hairstyles, updates on Vladimir Putin’s self-proclaimed righteous battle for liberty against “fascism” in Ukraine, and whether households in the UK will be able to survive the winter. As I said, simple.

However, the future that students are facing is not at all simple. Ever since Tony Blair launched his ambition to send at least half of Britain’s youth to university, many are now blindly heading there, despite the eye-watering cost. And while more people achieving a higher standard of education is a good thing, it has inevitably meant that a degree is no longer as valuable as it once was. So, what should students do?

There is no doubt, in my mind, that a degree is definitely worth anyone’s time, and many people come out of university with the knowledge needed to take them to their careers, even if that knowledge is where to go for the cheapest drinks. But is it worth the money? Those living away from home in London can borrow a maximum of £12,667 to help with their living costs. Had such a figure risen in line with inflation, it would stand at a maximum of £13,632, a £965 gap – not something you can get from just selling a few textbooks, or cutting back on pot noodles.

Usually, a student would seek help from the bank of mum and dad, but with the rising cost of living, propelled by the main CPI (Consumer Price Index) components of food and energy, households are facing an even greater squeeze. The energy price cap is expected to rise to £3549 in October, and inflation is forecasted to hit 18%. So wherever students turn, they are met with financial pressure that has been compared to that of 2008. A survey by Nationwide shows that two-thirds of students are struggling to pay bills, prompting borrowing and overdrafts.

A-Level students opening their results
Students that have just received their A-Level results will be heading to university at a time when they cannot even afford books, let alone balance them. Image from The Sun.

Students that have just received their A-Level results will be heading to university at a time when energy bills will claim more than 11% of a household’s median disposable income, according to the ONS. After years of ruined education thanks to the pandemic, not helped by tragic tory planning and response, students will have to endure mounting costs, both at home and at university.

Well, what are we doing about it?! I hear you ask. A fine question indeed, but many universities have found it more prudent to remove ‘sensitive’ and ‘challenging’ books, rather than helping students financially. Okay, so what about our politicians? Not much better I’m afraid, the latest in Tory genius is to ‘phase out degrees that do not improve students’ earning potential’. Although this may seem well-meaning, is it really the role of the state to decide what courses individuals take?

If you wanted to go and study philosophy, the classics or creative writing, many Tories would tell you that it is a waste of time as it doesn’t improve your career prospects (despite their former leader studying the classics and making it to the office of the Queen’s First Minister - doesn’t improve career prospects, eh?). Remember when Plato argued that the best form of governance is when philosophers ruled? Yes, not going to happen. Of course, the students of the future won’t know who Plato was; they won’t be able to study philosophy.

I am all the more happy for a government and our political leaders to be taking an interest in our current students, the here and now, but, when our political attention succumbs to short-termism, then we must be worried. After all, how can we secure the nation’s future without securing the quality education that those who will inhabit that future need and want? - Not what the government needs and wants.

Parliamentary action to support students is unlikely to be seen. With the legislature currently in recess, and Labour calling for MPs to be recalled to Westminster, the country is in recession whilst our politicians are in recess - did they ever actually start working?

The educational standards of the UK may see a dramatic fall in the coming years, especially as the cost-of-living crisis deters people away from the debt-ridden path of university, favouring vocational qualifications or venturing straight into the workplace. Tony Blair’s ambition of sending half of the nation’s young people into lecture halls and libraries may not be realised in the future.

Despite this forecast, record numbers of students are making their applications to university, with 44% of 18-year-olds applying in England alone. Richard Adams, Education Editor at The Guardian, says that “the appetite for higher education remains undimmed, despite the government’s efforts to talk up the benefits of alternatives such as apprenticeships or other training”. So despite the noise that the nation’s financial woes are creating, and political efforts to direct interest to vocational paths, the university has not lost its hold on young people, and sixth formers still feel an academic education is the best choice for them.

That being said, students will need to master their budgeting skills and find the extra money to get by whilst studying for their degree. Once they graduate, the situation doesn’t look even better. The Bank of England is looking to raise interest rates to 4% as we continue our conflict with inflation, which means that young citizens will feel their ambition of home ownership slipping even further away.

Despite all this nonsense, I for one am going to university, not just because I’m an essay-writing, book-devouring, coffee-guzzling bibliophile, but because university really represents the future for me. There are few places that can offer the social, cultural and political experiences that university campuses do, and I am confident I will be prepared for a fruitful career as well as an intriguing life.

However, the effect of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, and soaring inflation will rest on the shoulders of our students for years to come, and leaving aside whether they decide to go to university or not, one thing is certain: life as a student is not simple.

Archie Rankin
Archie Rankin

A young, pen-wielding Liberal with intellectual curiosities in all things politics, with huge appetites for history, philosophy and economics. Committed to making a positive difference for young people in my role as Associate Editor & Innovation Lead, constantly seeking out new ideas and approaches to drive innovation and progress.

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