Going to university has become an expensive business. Increasingly, the burden of funding higher education is being placed on students in the form of debt.
Since 2012 many potential students will now have to contemplate accruing up to £27,000 worth of debt – before living expenses are factored in – when deciding whether to study at university.
Whilst many universities and further education colleges offer incentives, such as discounts, scholarships and bursaries in an attempt to reduce the cost of higher education for students; there has been a 7% decline in applications since the introduction of increased tuition fees.
Amongst the hardest hit appear to be part-time students with 40% fewer applying for undergraduate courses and 27% for postgraduate courses (UCAS 2013). In addition, applications from mature students are down by 7.1% (UCAS 2013) when compared to 2010.
Opposition to increased tuition fees has not been taken lightly and there have been a number of different responses, which include mass protests in London, the student occupation of university campuses across England and Wales and organised strikes by those that work within universities.
Yet, perhaps one of the most interesting responses has been the emergence of organisations that offer free higher education as an alternative to the current university system; not just in England and Wales, but across the globe.
These groups often consist of academics, teachers, activists, volunteers and anyone else who interested and offer free higher education courses for students who are unwilling and/or unable to pay £27,000 for a degree, but wish to study at a higher level.
The Social Science Centre (SSC) is one of these groups and offers free, co-operative higher education in Lincoln.
The SSC was created as an alternative for those who are becoming more and more excluded from higher education through increased tuition fees, such as mature and part-time students.
The centre is run by academics, teachers, volunteers and students as a not-for-profit co-operative and attempts to provide a different educational experience organised on the basis of democratic, non-hierarchical principles, with all members having equal involvement in the life and work of the centre.
The SSC has no formal connections to the University of Lincoln or any other educational institution and is entirely self-funded; operating on the basis of its members’ contributions.
All students are part-time, with most study taking place in the evenings and at weekends. While a full-time university degree normally takes three years, at the SSC it will take up to six years to earn an undergraduate-level certificate, up to four years for the equivalent of a Masters and up to eight years for the equivalent of a PhD.
The SSC offers courses based on themes that draw on core subjects in social science: sociology, politics and philosophy, as well as psychology, economics, journalism and photography.