Parent Blog: Stella – The Benefits of Higher Education
Stella has two daughters who both have degrees, one of which progressed via A levels onto University and the second completed an Open University degree after originally completing BTEC and A level qualifications.
As parents, the view we adopted regarding our daughters venturing into higher education was always that the decision had to come from them. They are the ones who have to go and do the course not me or my husband. We did think it was very important that we were well enough informed ourselves to be there for support and guidance if and when they requested help and advice. Getting the balance right is crucial. Too overbearing and you lose their trust and they don’t tell you anything! Too little and they may get sidetracked into something unrealistic or unsuitable. It was especially difficult for me as a teacher to ensure that this balance was maintained. I suppose ‘waiting in the wings’ is how I played it but being there if needed. It feels much more positive to be asked your opinion rather than dictating it!
Our daughters have very different characters and personalities so the process needed to be bespoke and personalised to their needs. Throughout their childhood we had always supported and encouraged them to do what made them happy. This was an important factor in moving on to the world of Higher Education. If it would make them happy, fulfill their ambitions and dreams and help them build resilience to cope with the real cutthroat world out there they should try it. Often learning for its ‘own sake’ is lost in all the pressures of learning with a specific career in mind. The joy of learning and stretching yourself to the limit is an important factor in being satisfied with what you end up with in life. So for a young person to be able to mix and converse with other people from different backgrounds and cultures is a really important life skill higher education can offer. . In addition being with ‘like minded’ people is often a very positive outcome of higher education in that a young person may have found themselves quite isolated at school or college for various reasons e.g. their ability, choice of subjects, even their choice in music! To find themselves friends who have the same interests as themselves, somewhere they ‘fit in’ are accepted for who they are can be a huge relief and help their own development which previously may have been stifled in the large secondary school setting. It can provide a platform to develop positive relationships away from family and friends at home if they choose to live away from the family home. It’s often not easy for parents but that’s another story!
Moving away is a big part of belonging to the higher education community. Whilst not essential I would at least recommend it for the first year even if your child opts for study at a home university or college. Learning to live independently develops skills in washing, cooking, cleaning, shopping and budgeting to be responsible for themselves. It helps them work out the best work life balance and leads to a more rounded individual with a broader outlook. Living in a shared flat, whether in halls or private rented accommodation, means learning to share and co-inhabit with people a young person might not normally associate with. It’s about getting on with people and forming new, more diverse relationships that can be enduring and lead on to opportunities for collaboration when they enter the world of work.
There are many myths surrounding entry to Higher Education. For me two related to finance. It was not until I researched it at the time of our daughter going to University I realised that the tuition fees could be paid via a student loan from the Government applied for through Student Finance England. Also, it was the students loan not the parents. Secondly, that the student did not have to pay back the loan [with interest] until their salary reached £21,000, [25,000 from April ’18]. Only when earnings exceed this figure is payment of 9% of the sum earned above that figure; e.g. earnings of £24,000 the payment would be 9% of £3,000. £270 would be taken at source annually.
Our other daughter chose to study for a degree via the Open University. This resulted in a longer period of study [6 years] and at the time it was less expensive financially but much more demanding of her time. She had a full time job throughout and also went through a divorce. This form of higher education suited her circumstances at the time, she didn’t take out any loans to pay her fees or for maintenance so has no debt. She achieved the same sense of satisfaction and pleasure from her studies as her sister but did miss out on other positive aspects such as social interactions.
As parents we’re pleased that they both took the opportunities available and made the most of them. As a result they are both much more confident, self-assured and can converse and interact with a wide range of people. They are able to apply their learning in the world of work and manage their time efficiently and effectively. The pleasure in study has supported both our daughters into employment.