Yesterday evening I went to my first LISNPN meet-up and had the chance to meet lots of graduate trainees who are currently working in various libraries across London. The meet-up happened to coincide with the fortnightly #uklibchat on Twitter, which this week was all about library school. Although unplanned, this turned our meet-up into a live discussion of the questions which were being raised on Twitter and we decided to set up a MacBook at the end of the table in the pub so that we could follow the online conversation.
Many of the graduate trainees, both on Twitter and in our group, expressed concern at the rising tuition fees which they will face next year when they apply to library school. Higher fees, coupled with the fact that MA funding opportunities are being steadily reduced, mean that trainees who choose to pursue a postgraduate course are likely to find it difficult to fund their studies. The extent to which AHRC funding will be available for library school students next year is uncertain – this year the ten funded places offered by UCL were reduced to five at a late stage, which meant that previously eligible students missed out on an award. Career Development Loans are an alternative option for students who don’t receive funding, but the value of these loans would need to increase in line with rising tuition fees in order for them to remain a viable source of income.
It is possible that higher tuition fees will cause greater numbers of library school students to opt for part-time or distance learning courses in the future. The ability to work while you’re studying makes postgraduate education slightly more affordable and has the added benefit that you can gain extra work experience during your studies. However, working and studying at the same time is not an easy option and certainly requires a lot of hard work. It also seems unfair that some students who would really prefer to attend a full-time course might be unable to do so for financial reasons. I feel that attending library school full-time has a lot of benefits and that the social aspect of a full-time course can be really valuable. One of the things which I am enjoying most about the full-time course at UCL is being part of a community of students – everyone on the course is so enthusiastic, friendly and supportive of each other and I feel that I’m getting a higher quality learning experience because of this.
It will be interesting to see how the increased fees and reduced funding will affect take-up of postgraduate courses in the long-term and how this will in turn affect the profession of librarianship. If fewer and fewer would-be librarians can afford to take a postgraduate course in years to come, will this change the status of the Masters degree within the profession? Could it be the case in future that fewer professional posts will specify a postgraduate qualification as an essential requirement, simply because this is beyond the reach of most people? If more people choose to forgo the traditional academic route, perhaps they will instead choose to work towards ACLIP Certification, which could lead to this becoming the required professional qualification in librarianship rather than the Masters. It is interesting to consider how such a change might affect the overall shape of the profession.
As things currently stand, concerns about higher tuition fees are affecting all professions which require a postgraduate qualification, and I sincerely hope that the government will recognise these issues and implement a better support system for postgraduate students before most of them are priced out of the market. In the mean-time I wish all current and future graduate trainees the best of luck, whichever route they decide to take towards becoming a professional librarian.