To Uni or not to Uni? That is the question.
Does our Government support students enough? One Manx undergraduate thinks not and one MHK thinks so. Gef investigates…
“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way”. So sang the dearly departed Whitney, and it’s a sentiment most of sound mind would surely share.
Whilst we perhaps shouldn’t attribute too much heft onto the words of a drug-addled pop balladeer, it’s safe to say that Manx undergraduate Kathryn Sharman concurs.
In a blistering blog post, Kathryn addressed what she perceived to be a lack of financial support from the IOM Government; an unjust and markedly unfair system that is “damaging the physical and mental health of students”.
It’s a hot topic right now with it being well publicised that more people applied to appear on Love Island than to enrol in Oxford and Cambridge.
Is the value of education diminished? Are opportunities being thwarted due to financial strain? Does the Manx government do enough to support young people?
Gef spoke to MHK Lawrie Hooper and dived headfirst into this submarine-sized can of worms…
So what support is in place now?
Heavily subsided tuition fees helped out 885 students during the 2017/2018 student year. This equates to up to £6,750 paid by the IOM Government per year of the £9,250 maximum approved tuition fee. Eligibility criteria must be met and Manx students have to contribute £2500 per annum. Before you worry you’ll have to auction off another kidney, there is a loan option available to assist with this funding.
There is also a maintenance grant which is means tested and calculated on the basis of the parents / guardian’s income / tax returns.
This is much more restrictive in nature – only 410 students were accepted in 2017/2018 with a further 468 rejected.
Criticisms of the system
The means by which the maintenance grant is measured could be construed as being restrictive.
Kathryn cites her own family as an example whereby her other siblings, rent, bills and outgoings would be deducted from household income before any money would be available to support her. This can create a complete dependence from students on their parents, whereas our UK counterparts can acquire student loans to assist.
This also means mature students are penalised as their eligibility for grants is solely based on their parent’s earnings.
Lawrie Hooper admitted that it is middle income families who are arguably being hit hardest here. The Department are currently looking at various options on this and hope to go out for public consultation in the near future.
In that first foray into independence, when the law states you are an adult, it can be somewhat dispiriting to be wholly reliant on parents and equally, there is no guarantee parents will support you in any case. Your Dad’s midlife crisis isn’t going to buy itself!
This puts immense pressure on parents, leaving them in debt rather than the students and, faced with such a burden, it may dissuade them from encouraging their children to go to university at all. You’ve just got rid of them and they’re still leaching off ya – bloody kids!
What the system gets right…
Manx students will undoubtedly be left with far less debt than those from the UK. The heavily subsidised tuition fees and overall government student support equates to approximately £9 million in total, working out at about £12,000 per student per year.
Some parents genuinely cannot afford to send their children to university and this is who the maintenance grant is designed for. Roughly 30% of Manx students have been supported in this way and they don’t have any obligation to pay this back.
The wider debate
The lack of opportunity and diversity in the job market may mean that Manx students do not return at all. Should the government be concerned at the lack of variety or the startling lack of jobs available in the arts or anywhere outside of finance?
Should there be support for certain degrees? Surely, the primary purpose of higher education is to lead to a career?
However, with the increased array of degrees available ranging from badger pottery to yacht sociology, there is a chance the funding and support is for a lifestyle choice rather than a vocational one. And yet, to not support many of the students with living costs may result in them not returning and diminishing the Island’s workforce. It’s a right pickle so it is.
Maybe more support for living costs is something to be considered here. Education is integral to a functioning society and should actively be encouraged and promoted. It cannot be considered fair for parents to bear the brunt of their child’s debt nor do we wish to scaremonger potential students out of the myriad life-affirming qualities university has to offer.
However, maybe our government needs to ask for more back – a tangible return to be sought.
If the degree is paid for, there should be guarantees the student intends to return to the Island. If not, the funding could be cut or reduced. Incentivising graduates to come back to the Man Isle, to bring their newly acquired qualification and life-skills back to us, has to be a priority.
And yet, why should we punish those who leave? Are we not proud of Manxies who have taken their talents elsewhere where greater opportunities dwell? We have hairy eunuch-disco, Broadway starring thespians and axe-slaying guitar wizardry (lookin’ at you Mr Knowles!) all residing on other shores, yet still feel immense pride at their achievements.
Plus, what does it say of a community-focused place such as ours if we impose such rigid rules? This could, inadvertently, drive students away and make them resent their home.
There are alternatives to university whether it be apprenticeship schemes, college or employment. And there is no doubt student funding is heavily weighted towards university study.
Maybe times are changing
There is a growing consensus that a degree is not the only way to nab yourself a decent job. If in doubt, there’s always clamour for going on the game. It’s an untapped market over here.
If Manx students have to pay more to attend – on account of several institutions recognising us as international students – then what do they get in return?
There are questions to be asked here and as always, you’ll never please all.
Some see the Government as providing too much support. Isn’t university a choice? Students can work part-time jobs to supplement their income after all.
Ultimately, the Isle of Man government cannot entirely subsidise but some additional support may go some way to instilling faith in a polarising system. Our government must surely realise the potential implications of ignoring critics like Kathryn: potentially driving away our Island’s future leaving the rest of us trapped in a static past.