Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Funding for graduates: a last minute reprieve?

Currently listening to: Velvet Morning - The Verve

Apologies for the length of this post!

The cost of studying medicine as a graduate has been on the back of my mind a lot since I got my results and realised that I actually will be applying for 2012 entry medicine, and therefore I have a chance of gaining an offer, and subsequently having to deal with £9K p.a fees.

It's no secret that I have nothing but contempt for the government, not least due to their short-sighted and damaging plans for higher education and the NHS. The New Labour lot before them weren't much better, and indeed they were the ones who commissioned the Browne Report to begin with, but the Coalition has been a complete shambles, not least because it's an unholy marriage between a group of supposedly liberal and progressive individuals (the Lib Dems, believe it or not) and the firmly pro-business and pro-profit Conservative party. I am not a Lib Dem, though in between feeling cynically amused at their plight, I actually feel sorry for them, as they're acting as the Tory's human shields and the opinion polls prove it. Is Clegg the most hated man in Britain or what? But then again they brought this on themselves, which is a lesson to all would-be political opportunists...

Until 2012, if a graduate started medical school, they would pay the tuition fees for their first year (£3000~) themselves. Graduates would not be entitled to a tution fee loan, but instead their fees for years 2-4 would be paid for by a NHS bursary. The graduate would also be able to get student loans to cover their cost of living for their four years at university. However, since the Coalition pushed through their "reforms" in 2010 at breakneck speed, they forgot to take into account the situation of post-2011 graduate entry medics. What happened next was over six months of pure uncertainty and misinformation, as it was suggested that the government wouldn't help GEM students, and that the NHS bursary would not be increased to cover the difference between the new £9K fees and the old £3K fees and no tuition fee loan would be provided.

As you can imagine this lead to a lot of panic amongst many students about where they would be able to find £9K x 4, and that's just the tuition fees. With the living expenses of going to a central London medical school, I had figured that if I got an offer, I would need about £76K to actually get through the course. Since my parents aren't oil tycoons, I couldn't rely on them, and I was very reluctant to get a commercial bank loan. The Times Higher Education Supplement covered this story last week, the comments at the bottom of the article are an indication of how graduates felt about being shafted by the government, simply for wanting to study medicine.

I don't really fancy doing an in depth dissection of the entire White Paper, though suffice to say that I laughed with some derision at the notion of students being "consumers". We are not consumers, we are students. University education is not a consumable commodity, and universities are not profit machines, or rather, they shouldn't be, though with this lot in power, I have no doubt that both the university and the health systems are now venture capital enterprises.

Fortunately however, the government appears to be willing to keep the NHS bursary for 2012 and provide a tuition fee loan to cover the increase in fees, something I am relieved about, if indeed they follow through with it:

"And I can announce today that my Rt Hon friend the Secretary of State for Health and I have agreed that, for undergraduate medical and dentistry students starting their course in autumn 2012, the NHS bursary will be increased in years 5 and 6 to cover the full costs of tuition. For graduate entrants starting in autumn 2012, access to student loans will be made available so that there are no additional up-front tuition costs. We will consider arrangements for subsequent years. More information is being placed in the libraries of both Houses." - David Willetts

I have bolded the penultimate sentence as it's quite ominous, it seems to suggest that safeguarding the bursary is only a temporary measure, until they can find another way of doing things, which will no doubt involve transferring the cost from the NHS onto the students. So this makes it extremely important that I get in for 2012 entry, though I won't be the only graduate heaving a sigh of relief at this news, thousands of others will be, and so the competition will no doubt be very, very tough this year as everyone clamours to get in whilst they're guaranteed tuition fee loans from years 2-4.

Am I relieved about the proposals? Yes, definitely, it's a real weight off my mind. Am I grateful to the government? Not really, I still reiterate my belief that education should be free for all. This is definitely better than leaving graduates to find their own funding, but it still doesn't change the fact that if I ever make it through medicial school, I (and all my classmates) will leave with A LOT of student debt, all for wanting to enter a profession which is as public-minded as it gets. I think the BMA sum up my thoughts perfectly:

“These experiences demonstrated that for many students the hope of becoming a doctor was at risk of being extinguished, despite their obvious talent. Graduate students, of which a substantial number come from low income backgrounds, were in particular danger of being priced out of medicine because of the unfair suggestion that they might have to pay the increased fees in their first year.

This was completely unacceptable, as was the months of indecision and delay from ministers on both of these important issues...

...We are therefore pleased that ministers have listened and given guarantees to applicants for the 2012 intake. These individuals can now get on with planning their applications.

However, despite this step forward the BMA believes that this announcement should not just be a short term fix, but a long term solution...".

I, and everyone else involved in the Save GEM Campaign are very relieved for now, because for next year's cohort at least, funding is to be provided. Getting an offer for 2012 is now more important than ever, so here's hoping I get in.


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