Figures released last week by UCAS reveal that 12,400 fewer UK students have applied to go to university in September 2018, than compared to the same point last year.

With tuition fees set to rise, an increase in the rate of interest on student loans, and a perceived lack of graduate jobs, you can see why many students are finding an alternative to university.

In a recent article The Guardian revealed that some university lectures could cost students £135 per hour, when taking into account the £9,000 fees and the amount of contact time they get with their tutor, leaving students wondering if a degree is really worth it?

But according to the Higher Education Manager at University Centre Hastings; University is worth it, and it can be affordable to all.

“The cost of university has increased dramatically over the past 15 years. Many students have their hearts set on university but are being put off by the increasing amount of debt,” says David Fowler. “That is why we’re reaching out to students to give them a much more affordable option, without sacrificing any of the quality,”

“There are lots of fantastic opportunities available to college and sixth form students right on their door step. Traditionally, students want to move away from their home town to gain that university experience, but with fees set to rise to £9,250, interest rates on student loans rising from 4.6% to 6.1%, and the cost of living continuing to rise, many simply can’t afford to move away, so I believe staying local is the answer.”

It would seem that staying local is a trend on the rise. Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that 638,855 full-time students in the UK were living with their parents, or in their own home, while studying last year (academic year 2016/17). This was an increase of 40,755 from the 598,100 students who started a degree in 2015/16.

The cost of living in Hastings is also lower than other university towns and cities in the South East. According to Numbeo, a user-generated cost-of-living statistics website, essential living costs, such as rent and food, is approximately 45% less than compared to Brighton.

Poppy Carter, a first year BA (Hons) Graphic Communication at University Centre Hastings said: “This is actually my second spell at University. In 2016 I started an art degree at Arts University Bournemouth, but due to a number of things, including the cost of living, I decided to drop-out and move back home to Hastings. The cost of living was really expensive and my student loan just about covered the cost of the rent, leaving me very little money for essential things like food. Now I’m studying and living in Hastings, I have more money to spend on food and course materials, as well as enjoy the social aspects of uni.”

As well as the financial savings, David Fowler explains the other benefits to studying at University Centre Hastings. “The quality of our provision is fantastic. We have gained full confidence from the QQA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) for our teaching and standards. We offer over 30 higher education qualifications, including a number of higher apprenticeships, as well as 6 full honour, Bachelor of Arts subjects awarded by the University of Brighton. We’re able to offer these courses with the pull of a certificate from the University of Brighton, but saving students almost £2,000 a year than if they studied the equivalent subject elsewhere.

We put all of our courses together with the industry in mind, adding strong vocational elements to the modules. This enables the students to take advantage of our excellent links with the community, Sussex employers, and international industry experts to increase their experience of working on live projects and build their own network of contacts.”

Grace Leaney, former BA (Hons) Illustration student said: “The two main things that stood out for me during my time at UCH was being able to gain a lot of valuable experience by working on live projects for local restaurants and venues, and learning how to network and build contacts. This was invaluable to me, something I don’t think I would have been able to do if I was at another uni and part of a much bigger class. I was given quality time to talk to my tutors and industry experts which has now led me to work on big projects for Hilton Hotels, Jim Beam Whiskey and One Love Festival.”

The largest online student community in the UK, The Student Room, also suggest that students should look at the added value of university, rather than just league tables.

In a recent article, they explain that league tables aren’t everything and students shouldn’t just base their decision purely on the number against a University’s name; even top university bosses agree. They recommend considering how much it is to live there, researching the finer details of the course, considering whether you will be happy there, and what else will you get out of the degree other than the qualification, to ensure you get value for money.

David continued: “Value for money is becoming such an important aspect of university and we pride ourselves on ensuring our students get real value for every pound they spend. We’re able to offer smaller class sizes, in brand new lecture rooms and art studios, with increased and meaningful contact time with lecturers and tutors. When we follow the formula of working out our hourly lecture rate, students studying on our BA (Hons) art programmes could be paying up to 80% less.”

Helen Bowler, National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) coordinator in Hastings, also argues that lower living costs and lower fees would help to widen participation. The HESA revealed that there was only a 0.1% increase in the number of students from deprived areas attending university in autumn 2016 from the previous year.

“The increased cost of university, along with the scrapping of maintenance grants for students on low incomes, creates too many barriers for a lot of students from deprived areas. Why should talented students miss out on higher education because they cannot afford it?

Hastings is the thirteenth most deprived of all local authorities, which is why we work to help make university more accessible.

Some of the things that we can offer include a cash bursary to go towards the cost of attending university open days and interviews; we regularly hold one-to-one progression coaching sessions to discuss all kinds of higher education routes including HNC, HND, Top-up courses and Higher Apprenticeships; and the University of Brighton is helping to run study skills sessions to help those students who are re-sitting GCSE maths, to help boost their grades the second time around.

The important thing is that we’re able to offer impartial information advice and guidance, to let them know about all the options that are out there and to see university as a springboard into their future career; more of an investment rather than a debt.”

So perhaps staying local is the answer to combatting the cost of university.

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