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By Sam Richardson
I’ll start with an important truth; I love my degree. Yet there no way in hell I would cough up £27,000 to study history if I was given the chance. I simply don’t believe it’s worth the money. And I’m convinced the 2012 applicants will agree with me.
On hearing the passing of the bill last year, and the Oxford congregation’s recent decision over the new fees I made a resolution; if the authorities treated me as a customer I would treat them as a business. Thus I’ve been trying to ascertain the bang I get for my buck. Over Hilary term I received sixteen hours of contact time in total, together with three one-hour lectures a week. The tuition fees for that term came to £1097. That works out as £27.42 for every hour the university had to entertain me. Its better value then private tuition sure, but worse value then my (state) school which gave me a whole three A-levels and a few friends. And yes, the Bodleian is magnificent and true, books don’t grow on trees, but I still feel it’s a little steep. If we fast forward to 2012, multiply the hourly rate by three and quite frankly, you’re being taken for a ride.
Well, you argue, if you feel this way why do you remain an undergraduate? My answer is that the present tuition fees are worth it just to be at this place. Being able to spend three years in this fantasy world of dreaming spires justifies my graduate repayments of around £20,000. But what about £36,000? That is a sum substantially more then any humanities graduate can expect to earn for quite a while. The payment system does only take an amount relative to one’s earnings; around 9% of each pay packet, excluding interest. When I’m older however I’m sure I’m going to resent such withdrawals. A big question remains; what is the true value of history in the employment market? Lord Sugar himself remarked he’d prefer vocational experience to historical know-how. Being neither a financial genius nor a ruthless hack I’m worried I’m inescapably drifting towards the type of generic desk job as immortalised in ‘The Office’. I’ll sit in my faux-leather chair, staring gormlessly at my computer screen, and wonder why the hell I thought the Hungarian bloody renaissance was so fascinating in the first place. And I’ll owe £36,000 to the government.
What is to be done? The truth is I don’t really know. The idea of setting fees exactly equivalent to the cost of degrees is plainly repugnant, given my medic neighbour would have to pay ten times my fees in order to save dying kiddies, while I read Sharpe novels. And obviously a system based on the utility of one’s degree hardly supports my discipline. As much as I would love to abolish fees altogether, I’m not convinced the Daily Mail-reading public would be prepared to wholly subsidise my intellectual interest. Maybe increasing the number of tutorial hours would both convince potential historians they were getting value for money, while convincing employers we aren’t entirely useless. Unfortunately in that scenario the lauded and legendary low workload of us historians would have to go. But in this time of austerity we’re all going to have to make sacrifices.
A gloomy addition to this debate is that humanities do matter. Why, I’ll leave to more accomplished thinkers than myself, but who can imagine a future without historians, or god forbid, classicists? Given the majority won’t be able to justify paying for such degrees, it is likely they will even further be restricted a narrow social elite. Study of such material will become a luxury, like organic dog food, with scarce rewards. It’s all so depressingly Brideshead. And it’s all so depressingly inevitable.
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