Gosh, time has flown by, with it being nearly 5 months since I last posted on my blog. In this time many things have happened; the Royal wedding, another ash cloud has threatened transport across the UK and Apple have previewed the next of its operating systems OSX Lion. All very exciting in different levels, however that is not what this post is about; it has two aims, firstly to update you with what I have been doing, secondly what my next steps are and the barriers which have been placed in my way.
Final Months At University:
Being a final year student and heavily involved in student politics it seemed only right that I ran for office within the Students Union. Previously there were four Vice President positions available, one for each of the faculties The University of Salford had. However due to the restructuring into three collages, the number of VP positions had been reduced by one. Campaigning was a successful, tiring and very educational experience, however it wasn’t meant to be, with me coming fourth by around 30 votes from over 2000 cast. Naturally I was disappointed, however I was happy in the knowledge that if the restructuring had not taken place I would have got in. All was not lost tho, as even though becoming Vice President was on my life path, it wasn’t the only stopping point.
Career wise I had always been interested in both business and law. My love of business and management was encouraged by Martin Port the former Managing Director and Founder of Masternaut Three X. Martin gave me the chance to work within a team as well as see the inns of highly successful business during four years of summer jobs. This did mean that I had did not take a traditional holiday abroad, instead working was my holiday as the knowledge and stimulation which I got was far more beneficial than sitting by a pool.
Whilst working in business is still one of my dreams, I do feel the need to have something more academic to fall back on, which is perhaps a value that my parents gave me. The message I picked up (whether it was intended or not) was “having an education you can be proud of and fall back on is priceless”. The world of business is a risky one, so having qualifications under your belt to go into a profession gives not only peace of mind, but several transferable skills.
Law was the subject which I enjoyed the most, a theory that was confirmed when I did work experience at Kings Chambers in Leeds for a week and sat in on some high-profile cases. The skills that the barristers showed collecting evidence, researching previous judgements, putting their arguments across and thinking quickly on their feet was something that in my opinion was one of the most impressive professions I had seen (to understand what I mean, watch an episode or two of Kavanagh QC). Sadly my A-level grades were not enough to allow me to do a straight law degree, however after consulting family friends in the legal field it was decided that this was not the best option anyway. By doing a degree in something other than law it would allow a much greater understanding of the world as a whole.
Therefore at University I studied business, with one module of law in the first year, and four in the third year. Now that I have completed my third year of studies and finished my undergraduate degree, the time has come to take the next steps on the ladder to become a barrister.
Postgraduate Study, And Funding It:
After much research I applied to do my GDL (graduate diploma in law) at Manchester Metropolitan University – one of the most successful GDL providers and was offered a place. Here lieth the problem. Cost.
As with everything in the world today, education costs money. Previously education was funded by the government in the forms of grants being awarded to those who were academically able, with the cost of the grant being repaid in the form of increased tax contribution from a higher paid job. Today student loans are offered to cover the cost of tuition, interest is charged at the rate of inflation making it cost effective for all, however this is only available for Undergraduate studies.
The cost of the one year GDL is £4,550, with the BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course) to be taken after the GDL currently costs £10,300. Therefore I am looking at an education bill of £14,850 BEFORE accommodation and living costs are included. Where am I supposed to find this kind of money? Student loans are not offered for postgraduate degrees meaning that funding can come from one of two places, grants or private.
Lets look at the grants first. The vast majority (if not all) of grants available are means tested. A method which on principle I believe in, funding should of course go to those who need it most. The method of means testing tho is a principle which I disagree with completely, as the means are tested against ‘household income’. For most grants funding is divided into two categories, those with households less than £20k a year, and those between £20k and £40k a year. I am fortunate enough to have two highly successful parents in the medical profession giving us a household income of more than the higher limit, however I am not part of their household. I am an independent student, living away from home during term time, attempting to stand on my own two feet. At the age of 21 there is no correlation between my parents salaries and the ‘style of life’ which I lead as a student. I took out the student loan to pay for my undergraduate degree, and used savings from my summer jobs to pay for living expenses. In my opinion students means should be tested on their means, not their households, as it should be my responsibility to fund my education, not my parents!
The second option available is to fund it privately, with the main option in this category being the form of a bank loan. A quick reminder the taxpayer has a 84% stake in RBS and 41% share in Lloyds (Guardian Online) from our action bailing them out in a time of crisis, so it would stand to reason that those who have paid tax (which includes me) should be able to get a loan for a valid reason, one of which being education. Very few banks offer Professional & Career Development loans and have withdrawn them as they did not make a significant return. Therefore the only loan available is an unsecured loan with the interest rates of 15.4%+ attached to them; however even then, this is not an option, as a student poses a level of risk that many banks simply don’t want to take. To sum up, the banks which taxpayers own, and I have contributed towards, wont lend me money for the purpose of education.
Why cant the Government help fund postgraduate studies? Naturally the budget deficit left to us needs to be reduced so cost cutting measures have to be made, however where these are made is where people need to look. I have been told that the NHS funds or partially funds medical students wanting to take postgraduate courses to specialize within a certain area of healthcare, so why should the legal profession be treated any different from the healthcare profession? The NHS get their return on investment through their doctors, the legal profession would return the services by offering legal aid to the state.
We could also look at the loan system for undergraduates, which has increased from the year 2012/13. The loan is provided to cover the cost of tuition, being paid directly to the university. However should all courses receive the same level of state funding? Viking Studies provided by The University Of Nottingham, in my opinion should not be given the same level of support as core academic subjects, for the simple reason that the level of return given in the form of increased tax paid from earnings will be significantly less. By reducing the amount of funding given to ‘Micky Mouse’ courses, more funding can be put towards those which do offer real return on investment for the British taxpayer.
What is the way forward. For me it will most likely be a combination of a private loan and asking my parents for support. Having stood on my own two feet more than most from the age of 16, asking for support from my parents is an idea that goes against the grain on so many levels. It is not their responsibility to fund my education, it should be mine. Given the chance I would take out a loan to pay for it myself – however this simply isn’t an option. Many students in my shoes wont have parents who are able to pull together the funds – what options do they have? Their parents taking out a second mortgage, securing loans against their house? Why should parents be put in the position of risking their homes for the benefit of their children’s education?
Education should be made available to all who are academically able, and not all education is of equal value. In my opinion the student loan which is made available to all undergraduate students should be extended to postgraduate study as well, either done via the Students Loan Company, or via the banks which are owned by the tax payer. The student loan should be offered to cover different levels of course fees depending on their projected level of return for the taxpayer. This is to say that those who are accepted to study a professional degree be offered more than a ‘Micky Mouse’ one, with means tested grants testing the means of the student, not the household the come from. Funding for those attending college for vocational qualification should not be affected.
Free education is a model that we are moving away from as a country, and the right to state funding should be offered only to those who prove themselves as academically able. If this country is to lead on all levels, we have to start funding the next generation, and remove the barriers preventing students who are wanting to study core postgraduate degrees.