by Khalid A. Shah
Amoor-e-Tuluba Department Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya UK
The UK government announced that from 2012, universities and colleges are permitted to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year for higher education courses, an increase from the current fees of just over £3,000. This is presented by the government as “progressive reform” and effectively shifts much of the financial cost of higher education from the state to the student.For the benefit of future students and their parents/guardians/sponsors, further information is presented here in order to help in the understanding of the new system and to possibly help clarify certain misconceptions that may exist.
As is the current case, students approaching higher education have two main costs to consider – tuition fees and maintenance costs. Tuition fees are charged by the university/college for each year of study, and the maintenance costs are the living costs a student will incur for food, rent, transport etc
The amount of tuition fees charged will depend on where a student goes and what they study there. From September 2012, most universities were expected to charge up to £6,000 per year, double the current tuition fees. However most have opted to charge somewhere between £6,000 up to the maximum of £9,000 on the condition that they put in place measures to help students from less affluent backgrounds. There are no restrictions on the amount private colleges or universities can charge. Students who started their higher education before September 2012 will not have to pay the increased fees, and will continue to pay at their current rate until the end of their course.
If a student has access to the finances required to pay the tuition fees and living costs, they may do so. However as in most cases today, full or part-time students opt not to pay up front and choose rather to take out a loan from the governmental Student Loans Company (SLC). This may be because they cannot afford the costs, or do not wish to transfer the financial responsibility of their higher education to their sponsor. These and some of the other funds that UK students (and in some cases EU students) may be eligible to access to help cover their costs are:
– Tuition fees loan to cover tuition fees. This is paid directly to the university/college by the SLC. It can cover the entire tuition fees cost at public universities, but is capped at £6,000 for students attending a private institution.
– Maintenance loan to cover living costs. This is only available to full-time students and varies depending on where in the country the student studies and whether they live at home or away from home.
– Maintenance grant if the student’s annual household income is less than £25,000. A partial maintenance grant is available for household incomes up to £42,600. This is also only available to full-time students.
– Scholarships or bursaries offered by the university/college. Each has their own criteria so a student should check what is available beforehand and what conditions need to be met. There will also be in place a National Scholarship Fund.
– Disabled students allowance, carers allowance, dependants allowance etc.
The loans and grants are paid into the students account at the start of every term or year. The grants, scholarships, bursaries and allowances do not have to be paid back. The loans are paid back to the government after the student has graduated and only if they have an income greater than £21,000 (this is higher than the current income threshold of £15,000). Repayments will be taken at 9% of the income above £21,000, after income tax deduction. So if the salary is £31,000, the graduate will pay nine percent of £10,000, which is £75 per month. This is usually deducted automatically from the person’s salary as is done with income tax. A former student who is not earning, for whatever reason, will not have to make repayment contributions at that time. The remainder of the owed amount will increase each year with interest at the rate of inflation plus up to 3%. If the entire loan has not been paid off after 30 years, it will be cancelled and no more payments will have to be made. *
* The information included is mainly sourced from the UK government’s digital service website for England and Wales – www.direct.gov.uk
The Muslim Student
The opposition to the fees increase from student groups and many others up and down the country has been evident for all to see. This resistance has however not managed to reverse the new national policy and the preparations for this inevitable change are well in place. Most universities are in favour for such a change as they believe it enables them to better-compete with other institutions on a national and international stage. Naturally, the students and their families who have to bear the weight of the higher fees are much less enthusiastic in embracing this change. There are strong concerns from students from low and middle-income families that they will not be able to afford the increased fees, and some are resigning to the thought of cutting short their planned education path, and moving straight into the employment sector.
For any Muslim student, shying away from higher education for the reason of increased tuition fees is highly discouraged.
The very first verse of the Holy Qur’an revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad [saw] started with the command “Iqra” (96:2) – an Arabic word meaning read, recite, convey, proclaim or collect. Elsewhere the Qur’an says: “Say ‘Are those who know equal to those who know not?’ Verily, only those endowed with understanding will take heed” (39:10). The Holy Qur’an places great importance on the seeking of knowledge. To study and appreciate Allah’s creation that he has bestowed upon us in his mercy, with the aim of being able to humbly recognise righteousness from falsehood, should be an aim for every Muslim. Every Muslim is therefore a student at any point during his/her lifetime, and so the responsibility of being a Muslim and an academic student at the same time may be considered two-fold, with the goal being to win the pleasure of Allah by serving humanity using one’s education and training.
The Holy Prophet [saw] also placed great emphasis on this issue having proclaimed, “The pursuit of knowledge is a duty upon every male and female Muslim”, and “God has revealed to me, ‘Whoever walks in the pursuit of knowledge I facilitate for him the way to heaven’”. Muslims have been commanded to “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,” and “Acquire knowledge, even if you must travel to China”.
As has been mentioned, structures are in place so that no full-time British student will have to pay up front to be a student at an English university/college. The system enables students to be a part of a ‘study now and pay back later’ scheme. This decreases the financial burden on the families/sponsors of the student. After all is self-sufficiency not the Islamic way? Ultimately the total amount a student will have to pay back is more, but a student’s contribution to the cost of their degree will be according to how much they earn later in life. This is far from being as big a challenge as travelling to China in the time of the Holy Prophet [saw] in search of knowledge.
The residents of the UK and EU are fortunate to have systems like this in place to promote higher education. Muslim students should not focus on the seemingly high amount that they have to pay back, but rather focus on the fact that they are able to access avenues that enable them to attain such high levels of education in the first place. As is currently the case in the Ahmadiyya Jama’at, the pro-education mentality should continue to be instilled in our young Khuddam and Atfal so that by the time they reach the age of considering university education, they think less of how they will repay the loans to the government, and more about how to the will repay their debt to Allah for paving the way for both their spiritual and worldly education.
On 17th April 2008 at Bagh-e-Ahmad Ghana, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifat-ul-Masih V [atba] announced the following directive:
“Allah told the Promised Messiah (as) that the people of your sect the Jama’at will progress in knowledge. Therefore, I advise the youth: immerse yourself in studies to the exclusion of everything else. Advance so much in every field of education that your minimum target is a Nobel Prize. That requires hard work over a long period. When nations want to develop and progress, they make plans on a long-term basis. I pray that Allah may grant you the strength to do so.” (See http://youtu.be/Vccszuhu5Vw?t=33m45s)
Surely if we as students of academia are to attempt to achieve this minimum target set for us by of our beloved Khalifa, we must recognise that the path we must travel is via some form of higher education. Of course, no such journey should be taken without first and continually humbling ourselves before Almighty Allah and asking for His guidance and blessing. So let us not be derailed from our path in pursuit of knowledge, and go forth reciting “Rabbe zidni ilma” – “O Lord, increase me in knowledge” (20:115)