The high cost of learning: valuing a study of our past

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I occasionally feel the urge to have a really good rant. These explosions of fury are usually of no practical use, but occasionally they can be incredibly productive. I had one on the allotment today as I raged to my sister at the impossibility of my pursuing an ambition to take a further postgraduate qualification because of the extortionate cost. I got little sympathy from her. She is of the view that if someone has to pay for me to learn it shouldn’t be her as a taxpayer, but she was grateful for the incredible speed with which I cut back the raspberries as I railed against the establishment.

Joking apart, I am in something of a dilemma. As someone who finds a casual  ‘teach yourself’ approach difficult to maintain when the lure of social networking is so strong I want the thought of assignments hanging over me to ensure I remain focused. The cost of further study is higher than I expected and as many are finding it impossible to afford a first degree, let alone a second postgraduate qualification I can hardly be surprised that I am expected to finance the course myself. The difficulty I face (apart from the fact that we have no money to spare) is my inability to convince anyone in my family or circle of friends, including my generally very supportive husband, that the investment is worthwhile. I am facing a brick wall, cemented I believe by the fact that I want to study a subject under the heading ‘Humanities’.

I hoped to study for a Masters in History or in Genealogy. The latter is more obviously vocational but neither option seems to meet with enthusiasm, although I have met some great people on twitter who have taken up the opportunity to study these subjects in depth and found it a fabulous experience. The difficulty for me is that I am surrounded by those who consider themselves of a ‘practical’ nature.  My husband recently went so far as to suggest that those studying Physics or Chemistry for example should pay lower tuition fees than those taking English, Philosophy or indeed History. This was apparently on the basis that this would encourage people to study subjects that are thought less appealing to the many who, he thinks, only want to go to university to have a good time. That was possibly the closest thing to a row we have had in many years. I was furious; but my vigorous defence of my area of interest and determination to establish the value of subjects that I believe enrich lives and create rounded human beings did not seem to convince and he is not the only person who appears to feel like this.

I genuinely believe we need to understand the past in order to properly understand our place in the world not only as a species but as individuals. The discipline of study alone is valuable but so many have thought so much over the centuries that I almost ache for a greater understanding of way lives and events have connected. For example, how much easier it is to challenge the way we are governed now when we have a proper understanding of decisions taken by the ruling classes in the past? It is not just a longing to listen to ‘In Our Time’ with Melvyn Bragg on Radio 4 without losing the thread about fifteen minutes in. I have come to the conclusion, particularly with my own study of family and social history, that the study of the past is positively therapeutic. You don’t necessarily need counselling to understand your nature. Just study your history.

So what should I do? How can I justify putting £2,300 on a credit card for one year’s study? Is it the investment I think it will be, taking me further into a subject I love and have already achieved some very small success in? Or are my family right, thinking as they do that it is really just an extension of my obsession with knowing things? They are largely of the view after all that reading is just something to do when you are bored and there is nothing on the telly.

I appreciate that you are not careers advisers, dear readers. But any thoughts on how I might convince my family, and indeed myself, that the study will be valuable will be gratefully received…..

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25 Responses to The high cost of learning: valuing a study of our past

  1. Viv says:

    Suzie, I really feel for you in this. I have thought about trying to take a Masters myself since the ubiquitous over selling of a degree means that even those of us who attained our degrees when only a tiny percent went to uni (Indeed, back when I sat O levels, only 20% of 16 year olds sat them at all) need a further qualification to lift us out of the herd. Lack of money is one reason, the fact that my daughter is doing her History degree via the OU is another(that’s where the money has gone) and the final reason is sheer bloody resentment at the perceived need in an insane job market to have higher and higher qualifications that fit us less and less for the jobs we do. I’m already hopelessly overqualified for both my jobs.
    There isn’t a subject I love enough to want to push that boundary. But you do. I can’t help but rant and rail myself at the sheer want of vision in the majority of people who simply see learning as something that has to be done with an end in mind. They know the price of everything but the value of nothing.
    Sorry I have nothing to offer but sympathy and emotional support.

  2. Carole says:

    I agree completely with what you are saying. I would love to complete a Masters in Genealogy or Archive Studies. I went as far with the Archive Studies as getting an interview for a spot at Manchester University.

    However there is no way I can justify the cost and its annoys me something rotten. I did a degree in Archaeology, I got a 2.ii but at the end of the day the job I’m doing now does not require me to have a degree. The market is now saturated with degree’s so unless you get a 1st then there is, in my humble opinion, little point in having the degree.

    Although saying that each year I go to WDYTYA Live and pick up the leaflets and prospectus’ from the various Institutions in small hope that I’ll be able to follow my dreams, get qualified and start up my own business or even get a job working for one of those Heir Hunter companies.

    Don’t give up on it. If you want to do it, and have the means to do so then go for it. I firmly believe if you’re going to since £2,000 into a course it should be something you enjoy doing; not something you’ll regret doing.

    • keatsbabe says:

      You are right, and and I have done something similar to you – I actually got a place at Exeter University to do a Masters two years ago and backed out before I had to pay as it seemed so expensive – it has gone up significantly since then.

      Hope you get to pursue your dream in the not too distant future. I do two admin jobs freelance to earn something to back up my career as a struggling writer. They certainly don’t need the degree and postgrad diploma I have.

  3. Jennifer says:

    A post-grad degree is a great thing to have, especially if you can make the argument that its bettering your chance of promotion or a better job. I paid the price and went straight from college into grad school – at an astronomical price. I was still young so I didn’t understand how long I would be paying for that degree.

    I’m not convinced that the cost really was worth it, but I am very glad I have it. I would actually love to go back for a liberal arts degree that I could customize with a combination of history, library, government documents and archival subjects. I love going to school.

    Is it possible to get a job with the university so you can get discounted or free tuition as an employee benefit? That’s the only way I would go back. Once I’m done paying the first time, that’s the only way I could rationalize going back.

    • keatsbabe says:

      Sadly jobs in the public and HE sector are few and far between at present and Somerset doesn’t have its own University. It is a shame that when you are in your teens you don’t think about how you will feel about the degree you do in the future. I studied Law when I really wanted to study English Lit or History. Bad move…

  4. Pauleen says:

    I really feel for you and empathise with the need to rant as well! The big problem is that as societies we are so driven with outcome-oriented or product-oriented learning, not to mention income-generating learning. There is an assumption that learning per se has no value, and that the humanities are as good as learning nothing. History does teach us about our society, its influences and how it works and has worked for generations….those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it etc.

    Every success guru will tell you that to truly succeed in life, you need to do what you love, so whether it’s history or genealogy, that makes it a priority for you. Putting on a practical hat here, is there any possibility that the additional study will generate more income for you/your family by a different type of job that you love? If not, then the argument comes down to what makes your heart sing, and believe me I agree entirely that’s important. Be your persuasive best….you need to be happy and fulfilled in your life, and if L2300 will do it then isn’t that a “cheap” price to pay.

    Do what you love! Surely if the money can be found, if it’s important to you, it’s important full-stop. If not this year, then plan for 2012. You are in the company of like-minded souls -the money is worth spending because it’s worth it to YOU.

    BTW Chemistry and Physics are boring compared to history;-)

    • keatsbabe says:

      Yes! Science subjects hold no appeal to me whatsoever! I am rubbish at them though which makes it worse. I do admire people who can focus on them.

      Thanks for your support. Lots more thinking to do I reckon.

  5. Him Up North says:

    This is what is so wrong with the whole tuition fee issue. The love of learning is being sacrificed for “what degree will give me the best chance of good money.” All disciplines have a value.

    I sympathise with you on the method of learning. I’ve tried distance learning and found it very difficult. I too need the motivation of regular assessment which self-regulated home study doesn’t provide.

    Have you considered a Career Development Loan? They are available for post-grad courses and you don’t begin paying it back until you’ve stopped studying. You can borrow up to £10,000.

    • keatsbabe says:

      Thanks for this – have looked up the loans you mention. I didn’t know they existed! I would have to be fairly sure I could earn enough to pay it back after 2 years but I would keep working anyway. Food for thought…

  6. Rin says:

    I sympathise entirely. Have you looked into grants at all? A brief Google search threw up this possible gem:

    Can’t hurt to try…!


  7. I feel your pain. I have had to put my desire for obtaining a degree on hold due to financial reasons (and the lack of graduate jobs out there too!). I would strongly suggest that if you are as keen as you seem to be about doing this course, then save up for it? I’m dead against putting anything on credit, no matter how noble the cause.

    Here is an excellent forum for suggestions and tips on saving up fast:

    I have to say, your husband has a point about the attitudes of some students who are just there to “have a good time”. Admittedly, it’s only a minority, but I’ve heard university lecturers spout their dismay on how the first year of a degree is mostly about students making friends and taking advantage of the student union bar prices!

    Best Wishes

  8. As one of those currently studying a Postgraduate Course in Genealogy the only advice I can give is if you really want to do it just go for it!

    I was lucky in that living in Scotland I received some funding towards the course but as to the rest of the fees I signed up to pay in instalments with just about enough money in my account to cover the first couple of instalments and no guarantee of income to pay the rest, but with a bit of creative juggling between bank accounts and overdrafts I managed to cover all the payments.

    Yes, I listened to my partner when he tentatively suggested that now maybe wasn’t the best time to do a course and that perhaps I should wait a year, I thought about all the reasons why I shouldn’t do it (no time, no money etc.) but all this was outweighed by the fact that I simply really, really wanted to. And no, I haven’t regretted it.


    • keatsbabe says:

      Thank you Kirsty! I cannot always think of reasons why it isn’t the best time and you are right to say that if I really want it enough I should just go for it!

  9. Lucy says:

    hmm I sort of agree with Peter. I am basically pathologically against debt though.

    It does seem mad that you can’t do a post-graduate degree without paying any fees. However, I got a post-graduate grant to study at Cambridge, which would have covered all my fees plus paid me 6k a year. This was 10 years ago! But nontheless, if you have an exceptional subject matter and a good degree already, then applying for funding is a possibility.

    Your chosen subjects are very VAGUE though, so I am wondering whether perhaps you aren’t really motivated for a passion for something, but are perhaps a bit bored in general? Maybe a more interesting day job would be a better route?

    Alternatively, you need to find some new and undiscovered THING to study and then try for funding. Those sorts of research degrees are far more likely to attract a funder. Have you got a box of unpublished letters from Keats in your attic?

  10. Lucy says:

    P.S. Obviously I didn’t take up the post-grad funding. I decided I would end up as a secretary with a PhD. So I continued working and drinking heavily instead… I don’t regret it!

    • keatsbabe says:

      Well I suppose we all forge our own path and working hard and drinking is also the way to go for me at the moment it seems.

      Most of the stuff in our loft has already been to at least 2 car boots and remains unwanted. No Keats there…

  11. Phil says:

    I’m part of the family you are trying to convince I guess. I know you would love to do it – great if you can get a grant or some other funding, but a credit card is certainly not the answer. If we were made of money I’d happily pay for you to do it, but we’re not and you’re not. Cut your cloth according to your means (I know this hasn’t always come naturally to the Grogans, but you seem to have been making better financial decisions lately) and find something cheaper or preferably free to fill your time – I’m sure the study of genealogy doesn’t have to be an expensive Masters Degree.

    • keatsbabe says:

      The money issue has not passed me by, as I mention in the post. I am a well qualified researcher but I want to have a specialism that interests me.

      I guess it would take a braver woman than me to deal with the gibes from my family if I did spend the money so it may very well remain a dream.

  12. I hope I’m not putting my foot in it, but the yearning to do another degree can be likened to maternal urges to have a baby before time runs out. I know the feeling well, which is why I am continuing with my studies (luckily in Germany where there are still some uni’s that don’t charge fees – I suppose a move to the continent would be out of the question?)

    I too have had to listen to family members who deride the Humanities and label it a ‘soft’ subject, suitable only for ‘girls’ and leading to appropriate future careers of teaching or light office work. They didn’t seem to make the connection that I was one of those studying a soft subject.

    I don’t think you need to convince yourself of the need/desire to continue studying – this much is obvious from the fervour with which you state your arguments. The challenge is getting your family to see just how serious you are. You could stress, for example, how a further qualification would bring you better career choices, irrelevant in which field the qualification is.

    I don’t know anything about your character or that of your family, but surely if they saw how important this was to you and your inner happiness – and how determined you are – they would come round to your way of thinking.

    On a more practical note, I know that distance learning is out of the question (no motivation, too expensive) – have you considered looking into ‘international’ courses at European universities? These are taught exclusively in English and some do not require full-time attendance. Fees are a lot lower than in the UK; even with accommodation added in, it could work out cheaper than a British course. This must sound far-fetched and not all families could live with the arrangement, but it was something that I went through, and lived to tell the tale.

    Suzie – I truly feel for you and wish I could give you some concrete answers. I’m sure your family’s stance will change with time, once they’ve seen your resolve. Keep us posted!

    • keatsbabe says:

      I have had some lovely comments following this post – thank you so much for your wise words. I will definitely look into the routes you suggest.

      What you say about the maternal instinct and time running out is actually very interesting. With my youngest child now aged 16 I have felt the urge to start again with another little one. However a) I don’t have the energy and b) my teenage daughter would disown me!

  13. Ian says:

    I grew up in a family with no Dad -divorced Mum then died probably as a result of being a prisoner of war of the Japanese. Mum was depressed and fearful but I had a grandfather who had worked his way up from a police constable in the Met. circa 1900 to the colonial police and eventually principal of the Police Training School in Hong Kong. He had to learn some oriental languages Urdu, Hindi and Cantonese. He died before I got to know him but he set the example that learning for its own sake (or our own sake) was valuable. And he left his (a bit out of date) books which i explored. I went to a Sec. Modern as I didn’t take the 11+( I don’t think Mum realised that grammar schools were free if you passed the 11+)but I got 7 ‘O’ levels and after working in an office and a factory, went to teacher training college on the ‘O’ levels alone. Mr Gove would throw a fit. I passed but I would have done better if the college had realized I needed some mentoring and help. However, I did have a grant. I later got a degree with the Open University. The state has to play a part to help those with more slender means but I question these targets of 50% going to University. Also I meet a number of people who qualified but hardly educated. They don’t read widely and I think that is the basis of ‘being educated.’ Today we have the internet which places the world’s knowledge in our sitting room. so much easier than hoping has the book and it’s not on loan.
    So what am I saying? Education is worthwhile for itself. In the end our self growth as human beings is what it’s all about. It’s what we can take with us to the next world (tho’ not all believe that). But we all have to live within our means so we have to compromise. But we can learn a lot by ourselves. That might have to be the path at the moment but i wish you lick in the future.
    And the more we know, the more we realise how much we don’t know.
    Did Keats have any hints, do you think Suzie?
    Who knows what the future holds? But that’s another post.

    • keatsbabe says:

      Now I hadn’t actually gone to Keats on this one but you may be right. I will delve into his letters tonight for inspiration!

      I need some direction with my learning that is the problem. I find the internet is a wonderful tool but it takes me off on all sorts of tangents. Too easily distracted thats my trouble 🙂

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