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To What Degree Does It Matter?

26 Apr, 2024

In this blog, Chris shares her worries that higher education does not offer equal opportunities for all school leavers…

Yesterday evening as we sat there, both wearing our coats at the table again, whilst eating dinner, ('almost' out of date chicken in Mediterranean sauce with boiled rice) my youngest announced to me, he's definite about his preferred future. This is before he's even lifted the pen to take his final school exams, I might add.

"If I can get offered an apprenticeship, I will take it in a heartbeat" he says.

He only sent in his “well thought out” application last week and is eager to hear back about how he fared. Judging by the look in his eyes he means business. "I can work while I earn," he says with an air of confidence and optimism.

In recent months we've been galavanting all (well hardly, but it felt like it considering I only have two speeds, go slow or stop) around the country looking at universities for him. I had hoped my son would be feeling excited about his coming of age and the end of his 'childhood' as he embarks on the next phase in his life. He is nearly at the age where he will be eligible to vote and legally able to order himself his first beer. I'd prefer for him to be looking back on his childhood years with fondness whilst feeling excited for his future, planning what costume to wear for his final day in school, or trying on prom suits.

Instead, he seems preoccupied by the idea of escaping a future saddled up to the eyeballs in debt before it's even begun. As well as seeming concerned with the weight of responsibility over his shoulders and distracted by the thought of being strangled by the purse strings of poverty.

I certainly can't stand in the way of him fulfilling his own life, even though I recognise that this seems more than likely a knee-jerk reaction to the events of the last few days, months, years, of watching his mother's response to the latest government announcements. I listen in silence as my appetite for almost-out-of-date chicken in sauce leaves me. What I want to say is "I hope to goodness we wake up tomorrow morning without feeling ill". Only I tell myself "that's not quite appropriate right now" and say nothing but leave the table and make a beeline for the kitchen sink.

Once nestled there against the worktop I think to myself, "at least at university he will be well looked after with pastoral support on offer and there will be a healthy sized cohort of other students there, his age, weight, shoe size, height, eye colour, or there'll be societies to join and student accommodation seems safe as houses and 'home' at least is within easy reach if he needs to return in an emergency".

In contrast, the apprenticeship he's applied for means working and living in London, full time, probably mostly alone. It feels a million miles away from the life he's lived so far, relatively speaking. With no one but himself to take care of him and his needs. How ever will he cope?

In all honesty, I question how he'll even afford to stick it out on his own there even if it does provide him with a wage, it's likely to be minimal and "London living" is anything but minimal.

All I can do to stop myself from saying a flat and unanimous "no" to anything at this point in time is to say nothing and bide some time. But inside my head I'm hoping to find a portal to space where I can scream long and loud and cry that if life were less financially lacking, he'd be happy to stay closer to home at least.

My son and I have always enjoyed a really close relationship with each other, so naturally any separation is bound to be difficult for us both, but the feeling of separation born out of desperation - to avoid debt, at such an early age in life, before he's even earned his first wage, doesn't bear thinking about until it does. Come to think about it, even when he considered the possibility of attending a low ranking university it was purely to continue living at home, and as such an attempt to avoid the excess of having a large student loan to repay.

What on earth (specifically here in the UK) has happened to contribute to him thinking like this?!

As a single parent family our finances have always been under the spotlight throughout his childhood. He has never known anything different. He's always been grateful and appreciative of whatever he's received, never demanded anything from me to match his friends' expectations from their parents, he's even been referred to as "poor" by some of them, and took it in his stride.

But with this latest proposed stripping of claimant's benefits, I feel it's the final nail in the coffin. That's because it all culminated in stopping my son from having the freedom to choose his future path freely instead, he's choosing out of fear.

There's no equal playing field here, despite all his hard work. That's turned out to be a total myth.

I have one thing to say to you son, "let's hope for a general election no sooner than your birthday and make sure you use the power of your vote wisely my love!”

Written by

Chris R

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