The cost of flying too high

12th May 2006 at 01:00
What did you want to be when you grew up? I yearned to be an astronaut.

Being made to watch grainy black and white images of the moon landing had a profound and lasting impact on me. I wrote to Nasa asking for advice. I still have the letter thanking me for my interest and asking me to contact them again when I was 21 years of age. The bad news was that I needed to focus on science and languages. Dream dashed.

I never had a career plan other than going to university. That in itself seemed to be more than enough. Wanting to be an astronaut wasn't about reality; I wanted adventure. Certainly it wasn't about money. Then again, neither is teaching.

Pupils now seem to have their lives and careers mapped out years in advance. Our sixth-formers show me their very impressive career profiles.

Yet when I read the startling figures on student debt, I am surprised that anyone is even contemplating further study. Total student debt in the UK currently amounts to more than pound;5 billion. The average debt owed by those in higher education is more than pound;12,000.

And it's set to get worse. The projected student debt at graduation by 2010 is pound;33,708. That's my Year 11s. Has anyone told them? How on earth do any of them find the courage to go? I went for the passion of my subject and the subsidised student bar. Now it seems it has to be for the best-paid job at the end.

What sort of message is this projecting to our young people? That a culture of debt is fine, it's the norm. Want it. Want it now. Get it without worrying about the long-term effect of such decisions.

No wonder my form want to be celebrities or footballers - "for the money, Miss". Robbie Williams earned pound;30,000 a day in 2004-2005. He's reputed to have made a cool pound;80 million after selling more than 1.6 million tickets in a single day. He could pay off the national student debt in no time.

Alternatively, we could offset the debt using money saved from the annual government expenditure on waste or useless projects, which amounts to Pounds 81bn. It includes pound;77,000 spent by the Arts Council sending a team of artists to the North Pole to make a snowman, and pound;140,000 spent by the Economic and Social Research Council on a three-year Glasgow university study into what people do in coffee shops. Answer: drink coffee.

Somehow reaching for the moon seems more realistic than going into higher education and emerging debt-free.

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