University or Work?

From 2012 students in England face fees of up to £9000 per year…who will be able to afford them?

I studied in Poland. When I passed my entrance exams for the university (together with my secondary school final exams, which were equivalent to GCSE), I found myself in a comfortable situation: I had a place at one of the best universities in the country and I was still living at home. My parents agreed to support me for the whole period of studies (5 years until I got my Polish M.Sc.) providing I was doing my best.

I do not come from a rich family and I knew I had to finish my university as soon as possible and start working. Even before I entered the university, I had a deal with my parents: if I did not pass entrance exams, I had to look for a job to contribute to living. It was as simple as that. I was provided with food, accommodation and a bus pass. Anything else I had to earn. There was no way I was going to visit pubs or clubs. For one thing: I did not have the money, nor did I have time.

I admit, I did not have to pay any tuition fees (state universities are still free in Poland), but at the same time, I can honestly say, that I was not wasting my tutors’ time: I studied to the best of my ability and was not partying like some students. Lecturers (who I personally know) complain nowadays that many students ignore them during the lecture or occupy themselves by watching pornographic films on laptops. This kind of activity would not be acceptable when I was studying (over a decade ago). We, students or at least the majority of us, had regard for our teachers. We were not saints, but we tried to act and behave within norms. We were punctual and hard-working… Why did standards change?

Some people could call me “boring”, however, I knew I had to finish my studies quickly and stand on my own two feet. Besides, there was this pride getting in the way all the time: I wanted to show that I was able to get through a difficult course and finish it. Was it easy? No, not in the least. I was on the verge of giving up completely a few times, unable to pass some topics and feeling so stupid. But I persevered. From year three I started receiving a scholarship for passing all my exams on time and getting good grades. It was not much money, but when you are a student, every penny counts. I felt so proud and this achievement boosted my confidence. I knew I could do anything.

I finished my university with top marks and without a…debt. Well, I have a personal debt: to my parents for allowing me to study and supporting me even though we did not have much money. I would love to be able to give my children the same chance. Will I be able to do it? They still have quite a few years before they enter universities, but what loans will they have to take to be able to study? How will they repay them?

I know there are thousands of parents facing this dilemma. And it is obvious that they will have to choose between helping their children and sending them to the universities or sending them to work (if they are lucky enough to find it). How many young, bright people will have to give up an idea of being a student because they will not be able to afford to study? I do not support time wasters and party animals, who just study not to work and make life difficult for their lecturers. This kind of students should, in my humble opinion, be warned about consequences and expelled from university immediately. Plus they should have to pay the fees back.

However, genuine, hard-working students do not deserve to be deprived of the opportunity to widen their horizons because of lack of money. We never know, we may be “killing”another Charles Dickens before we see his creation…
Joanna Foss, B.Sc. graduated from Technical University of Lodz in Technical Physics. She used to work at Polish Academy of Sciences, then she decided to run, together with her husband, her own companies while bringing her family. She runs motorhome hire company, hosting company and gives private maths lessons to children. You can read more about her at her own website and follow estpuk on twitter.