I paid £9,000 a year to go to university, but was it worth it?

In our linear education system, we are taught that the natural progression from school is to go to continue learning at university or stop learning and get a job. We are taught that if you are intelligent and have the capacity for university then you should definitely go. But does the cost of education outweigh the opportunities it unlocks?

The matter of money only starts to become a worry when you begin to apply to universities during A Levels and see the course tuition fees in front of you. The hefty £9k per year price tag is a sum most people that age have never seen before and considering the fact that most courses last for 3–4 years, that number is tripled; becoming an unfathomable sum that seems eternally unpayable. Of course, a vaguely disengaged lecture in sixth form about how you’ll actually repay your student loan once you’ve graduated helps to sooth the looming debt fear but the fact still remains that, before maintenance or any kind of living costs are factored in, the price of your education alone is going to be around £27,000–£36,000 over the course of 3–4 years.

This money is supposed to pay for all the costs your university takes on when providing career-making, life-changing education. But is it really worth £9000? I’m sure everyone has some experience of lecturers who just aren’t up to it or lazy PowerPoints, but I’ve heard first hand accounts from people who went to university and decided the cost did not justify the quality of education they received.

For part of my degree I interviewed Nigerian international Sheffield Hallam graduate, Obinna Nelson. He told me how he had hoped his masters degree and the tuition fee he had paid (up to £13,000 for internationals) would give him a favourable look-in at a career in the country, however, months after his graduation he had hit a brick wall. “There are other internationals on my course, some of us wish we had invested the money in stocks and shares instead”, he told me. Obinna was left feeling slightly cheated by the vast sum of money he had paid only to find that the highly saturated job market was not ready to absorb the hundreds of thousands of new graduates they receive each year, and especially unwilling to receive internationals with visa requirements.

More than half a million students were accepted by universities in 2015. That’s around £14.4bn for 3 years of tuition fees overall for that year alone. I studied Journalism at Sheffield Hallam from 2014 until this year. The university is very proud of it’s impressive library facilities, namely the Adsetts Centre. The vast 6-storey building is teaming with PCs, Macs, a cafe, PrintCentre, thousands of books and a number of useful paid-for databases such as Nexis. This state of the art Library cost the University £40m to build in 1996 and whilst this was funded by the building’s namesake, Sir Norman Adsetts, it gives some indication to how much universities are willing to spend on facilities. The University of Sussex publish their expenditures on their website. They claim that 46% of spending, around £102m, is spent on each school within the university on things like textbooks, equipment and general upkeep of each department, with around £11m being spent directly on staff and students. This shows there is a huge amount of tuition still being used to benefit the students that effectively fund the universities they attend.

So, back to the original question, is it worth it? Well…yes and no. I know, annoying. Here lies the problem. Art, Photography, Fashion and Leisure and Tourism (and many other similar titles)are real degrees. They are difficult and highly demanding degrees, just like the rest. They cost the same as other degrees but they aren’t likely to make you as employable as most other degrees. This is enough to make some say that university isn’t worth the cost for these degrees and that they're a waste of money as they tend not to further your career.

Whether this is true or not is irrelevant though. The experience of university alone(at least as I experienced it) is a lesson in itself. From the, in hindsight; quite naive, fresher in first year, you mature and grow as a person through the three extremely short years at university. The money you pay towards tuition is also being spent on general learning even if it is somewhat ‘wasted’ on a less career-driven degree. I dread to think who I would be today, had I decided to pass on the years of debt and get a full time job, had I decided to give up learning, to give up growing. Yes university is unjustly extortionate but I would put myself in debt time and time again if it meant learning the academic lessons and life lessons I learnt in Sheffield.

Has this realisation furthered my career? no. Do I care? absolutely not. It has, however given me a fresh perspective on the price on pays for education. I still believe education should be free. I still believe that you can’t put a price on education and that everyone should have access to the best version of themselves, no matter what background. But I no longer see my degree as a financial investment that I need to get returns on. I won’t have wasted my time even if I don’t earn £12,000 per year more than non graduates. Because the debt I will likely be paying off well into my 40s has made me the man I am today.