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With all 123 British universities and colleges currently planning to raise their undergraduate tuition fees to at least £6,000 per year from 2012, and with the majority planning on charging the maximum amount permitted of £9,000, what are the options for British students who want to study but who cannot afford it?
The following are legal, practical and worth considering.
1. Study in Continental Europe
Under EU rules, residents of member states who are accepted onto degree programmes anywhere in Europe pay only the local tuition fee of the country whose university they study at.
Since undergraduate course fees are significantly lower in some parts of Europe compared with the UK, this could be an attractive option. The good news is that a growing number of European universities are offering degree courses delivered in English.
Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden are leading the way in seeking to draw English-speaking students into their fold. This year, for instance, Dutch universities are running over 1,500 Bachelor, Master and PhD programmes in English. Tuition fees start at €1,700 for EU students (approximately £1,500). Leiden University currently rates as a top international centre for the study of the humanities.
Don't forget that Ireland, despite its economic troubles, is covered by the same EU rule and contains several English-language universities. Undergraduate fees in Eire are currently paid by the Irish government for all EU nationals and, if you're smart enough to gain admission, Trinity College Dublin is, of course, a world-class university.
2. Consider the north of England and Wales
If you have to pay tuition fees, you might want to explore reducing your living costs. Small towns in the north of England and north and west Wales will have lower living costs - from rent to food and transport. Over the life of a three or four-year degree, these savings in outgoings could add up to a significant sum.
The Universities of Cumbria, Central Lancashire, Aberystwyth and Bangor, for instance, are all in cheaper parts of the country. Not to mention the University of Newcastle and Northumbria University. Durham (good luck!) is not as cheap as some of its neighbouring areas, but rents are a lot less than in London or the south east.
3. Study part-time
A significant change in student funding, which has received little media coverage in the controversy over tuition fees, is that from 2012, part-time students will be eligible for exactly the same levels of student loans and grants as full-time students.
This means that, unlike at present, from next academic year, it will be much easier to study part-time while working as well. Although many full-time students already try and work, studies show that there is a relationship between hours worked in paid employment and class of degree achieved. Part-time students will face less pressure as they combine work with study - and may actually benefit in the long run from keeping a hand in the job market while they gain qualifications in the process.
4. Apply for a funded course
Despite the gloom and doom surrounding student finances, there are still organisations which will pay you to go to university. These include the NHS, the armed forces, and various industries ranging from engineering to journalism.
Certain degree courses attract funding automatically - some social work degrees, teacher training in certain subjects, as well as medical and dental courses (if only for part of the course).
5. Explore Bursaries, Grants and Scholarships
It's also worth looking carefully at whether a particular university offers its own financial support packages to certain types of students on certain courses. For example, some less prestigious universities will offer bursaries of up to £2,000 to students with high A Level grades - who might not otherwise consider that specific institution. Lancaster University is one of many offering this on selected undergraduate courses. Others will give an automatic bursary to students who are eligible for the full maintenance grant. Sussex University, for instance, pays this directly to the student if their parents' annual income is below £25,000.
There are also additional grants that can be applied for - from the university itself or from a range of charitable bodies or professional institutions. The Educational Grants Directory may sell for £90 on Amazon, but you can get it for free form your local library. A day spent researching and filling in applications may yield valuable financial returns.
6. Consider a Foundation Degree
Although a three or four-year degree may be traditional, a two-year foundation degree could be just as useful, depending on what your plans are after graduation.
With some foundation degrees having a vocational dimension, this is a very viable way in to your chosen career path - with the option to add a third year and convert into a full bachelors' degree, or to do a post-graduate course later on in your career.
7. Live at home
Although the prospect of three more years at home with mum and dad may not be the future you (or they!) dreamed of, it is worth considering the sobering fact that even before the tuition fee rise, 40% of women and 60% of men lived at home between the ages of 20 and 24.
So, it may happen anyway. If so, it's at least worth considering whether getting a a degree and saving thousands of pounds in rent is the worst way of spending those years.
8. Earn below the re-payment threshold after graduation
It has been estimated that up to 80% of female graduates will never repay their student loans. The loan only becomes repayable when the graduate is earning over £21,000 per year. In addition, all loans are cancelled after 30 years of graduation.
The lower (and variable) rates of income generally earned by women mean that this combination of lower income and the passing of time will result in many women never repaying the loan in full.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this economic reality, it is worth putting this information in the mix when planning ahead.
By the way, the tax and allowance system in the UK means that it's much "easier" to earn less taxable income if you're self-employed. Just saying.
9. Combine the above
By mixing some of the above options, we may be seeing the way that university may look for increasing numbers of British students. That will be a part-time foundation degree, completed while working, based in mid-Wales or Amsterdam, and funded by the RAF.
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