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As College Costs Go Up, Fewer Britons Apply

The headline in a national newspaper declared that students in Great Britain were scared off by university fees reaching nearly $14,500.
The story was that British universities were facing their biggest fall in applications for 30 years, with a 10 percent drop.

Well, there’s a surprise. Fees of nearly $14,500 a year are common. Faced with the prospect of a debt of more than $43,000 just for the degree, not counting living costs, it’s surprising that more young people aren’t thinking twice.

And that’s not all: the very high cost of a university education is going to shape what sort of degree someone applies for, not just whether they apply in the first place.

Courses in the humanities will be under huge pressure as numbers fall. The days when you could go to university to further your education rather than to equip yourselves to earn as much as possible have gone – probably for good.

This is all very regrettable, some will say, but what’s the alternative? We can’t afford to be as generous as we were. Why should we let people fritter away three years in unproductive lotus-eating? And after all, there are grants and bursaries to ease the pain – a little, at least.

This is all very well. But can we not say, categorically, that putting a system in place that demonstrably deters bright and able people from further education is a retrograde step?

Can we not see that the inevitable consequence of this is that universities will once again become the playground of the monied and already-educated classes?

Do we really want to return to the sort of society in which poverty is self-perpetuating?

And do we want to see enormous levels of debt normalized when young adults are at their most impressionable age – as if we are not faced every day with evidence of what that sort of thinking leads to?

Here is another question: why should Baptist Christians – not all of whom by any means have children or grandchildren in the education system – care about this, other than as good U.K. citizens?

The answer is that we are also citizens of another kingdom, characterized by a commitment to human flourishing.

Involved with this is equality of opportunity, and the belief that no one should be disadvantaged because of their start in life.

It’s about justice.

MarkWoods is editor of Britain’s BaptistTimes, where this column first appeared.