Let's say your child has just turned seven or eight. So you're probably just getting into the whole secondary school angst thing, right? University is not exactly on your mind as it is about 10 years away. Only, think about just how fast the last 10 years has gone.
With my son only just turning six it definitely wasn't on mine either. But then a friend who works for a Russell Group university (yes, I had to look up the meaning of that too) was talking about the fees being charged by Middlesex University. My jaw hit the ground.
Let me lay it out for you using an excerpt from The Times printed last week. The full article is behind the paywall, but this is the interesting bit. "Middlesex University will become the most expensive in Britain next year, far eclipsing Oxford, Cambridge and other world renowned institutions in its average fee per student. Undergraduates who study a full honours degree at Middlesex will pay an average of £8,600 a year. At Oxford and Cambridge the average undergraduate cost, taking into account discounts, bursaries and other support for poor students, will be £7,549 and £8,034 respectively."
Excuse me?! How did that happen? Was I sleeping? At some point since my step daughter when to university when fees were first brought in, tuition has jumped from £1K a year to a whopping £8,600.
I did ask her what was so special about Middlesex that it charged more than Oxford. By over a grand. She explained that all these universities are in fact charging the same amount each year - £9K. So it simply means that Middlesex aren't being as generous as, say, Oxford with the bursaries and grants it hands out to students.
Combine the tuition fees with accommodation costs, and living expenses, not to mention some spending money and ... that's more maths than I can do. One site I looked at, The Money Advice Service, estimates that a degree will cost £65,000.
Is that a debt we want to saddle our children with?
We may, as parents, be able to take this debt on for them, and there may be other family members around who can help out such as grandparents or aunts and uncles.
But what if they or you can't?
There are bursaries and grants that universities will hand out, as already mentioned. And student loans to cover the shortfall. That should do it right, after all this isn't America. Essentially a university degree still doesn't really cost anything. Except that isn't true any longer.
A student loan might be low-interest, but they still have to pay the interest. By low interest they mean that it is pegged around the cost of living. At the moment, students don't have to start repaying the loan until they earn more than £15,000 a year, and then it is 9% of their salary.
The big question we as parents have to ask is, can we count on this being the case when our kids are at university? I keep thinking about the parents of the children who are starting next year. Did they imagine, ten years ago, that it would cost £9K a year in tuition? I doubt it.
I know I certainly wouldn't have thought so, not in a million years. Even though at that time my step daughter had started at university at around the time they introduced university fees. It was just beyond my wildest dreams that the UK would go so far down the US path.
So I've got to think that there's every possibility that this will double in ten years time. In reality, it costs a university around £16K a year to teach a student. It is conceivable that the government is moving us in little steps, small enough that we won't really realise what is happening, to a full US model where universities charge students for the entire tuition fee.
Some people would argue that this is only fair as a university graduate will earn more than someone without a university degree. It is worth considering though that in the US, you would pay a lot less tax than we do in the UK. Our tax is meant to help spread the cost for things like healthcare and education. Or at least it used to. What does it pay for now?
Also, we're quickly moving to an employment market where a degree is needed for a position that, when I left school *cough* more years ago than I'm going to admit, some good A level results would have done.
There are also other costs involved in going to college in the US that we don't have here - yet. For example, right now you pay UCAS £22 to apply for more than one university or course, and £11 if you are only applying for one. In America, you pay for each course you apply for, at a cost that can be anywhere from $30 to $50 according to CollegeBoard.com. That can soon add up.
The answer is to start saving now. We talked about Saving For Children in a previous feature, and you will find some useful information about Junior ISAs in this feature, Free Stuff For Babies And Mums.
Keep in mind that any account in a child's name means they'll have control over the money. Be clear to everyone, if you're encouraging family like grandparents to add money to this fund, about exactly what the money will be used for.
And also perhaps is time to consider getting a little bit politically active. Is there really a good reason why we have to pay for university fees?