Last month, Shaykh Dr Sajid Umar issued a fatwa via Islam21c regarding permissibility of student loans in the UK, which will come as a relief for many Muslim students planning to start their course at university this Autumn. There are more Muslims studying at UK universities than ever before. It is estimated that Muslim students make up 8% of the total student population, most are home students (British Muslims) and a small proportion – around 1 in 10 – are from elsewhere in the world. Given the number of Muslim citizens within the UK today – roughly 5% of the total population – this means they are somewhat overrepresented within universities. But with rising tuition fees and the current Covid-19 pandemic, posing the question “Is University for me?” has never been more important.
University is by far the most popular step for school and college leavers, and with so much attention on attaining a degree, it can feel like the only option available. However, with more apprenticeships and school leaver programme available than ever before, it is time Muslims carefully weigh their options before deciding to attend higher education. If you have started asking yourself the question “is university for me?”, the answer may very well be yes – but there might just be better options out there.
Here are my five suggestions for prospective Muslim students to help you decide whether university is the right choice for you:
Where am I trying to get to?
It is not easy to plan your life out at the age of 18 (assuming you are not a mature student), but the important thing is that you do not have to. All you need to do is question yourself ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?’. If you see a university course as an essential steppingstone (to be a teacher, doctor, lawyer etc.) for your future then you should pursue it. However, if you are not sure, then it is worth taking your time to figure out what you really want. It is worth having multiple conversations with family, friends, and anyone that you know in the community that can help you work out your natural strength and ambitions. if you are still unsure, then it is better to wait.
What do my employment prospects look like?
Looking into the employment outcome of the courses you want to do is very important, so be sure to research how many jobs are out there. With the current move towards automation and a looming recession on the economy, it is important for you to know whether the line of work you want to get into is still likely to be around in ten or twenty years’ time, and also whether your dream job could be replaced by a machine one day.
Do I need to take on student debt?
With the average student leaving university with more than £40,000 in debt, it is important that you research whether you will get a return on your investment. The average graduate salary is currently £23,000, so it is worth researching the average earnings for the professions you hope to go into post-university when you are looking at your options. If your dream job pays lower than the national average, and the course fees leave you in lots of debt, you should decide whether it is worth it. An option would be to look for scholarships that will cover the full cost because even if the debt is not haram, the last thing you want is to have the debt cloud over you for thirty years. Also, don’t rule out local universities. Living with your parents while you study may not be ideal, but you really will save a bundle on accommodation. Of course, this is only worth it if your local university offers a course you want to do.
Do I want to stay in education for three or more years?
Going to university can be an amazing experience, the three years of being a student can lead to meeting new friends and even finding your wife (Halal of course). But should you still go to university if there is no clear path from university to employment and you are not academically passionate about staying in education, because there might be better options for you such as through volunteering, doing a summer internship, or another kind of work experience placement which can give you similar experience.
Explore other options
Higher or degree apprenticeships can be a better choice than university for many young people. They offer on-the-job training in over 75 highly skilled job roles. There is much more choice than you might assume from the traditional notion of an apprenticeship as a way into a skilled trade like plumbing or carpentry. A higher apprenticeship could take you into engineering, marketing, accountancy or even laboratory science. Do your research before you apply because this will make it easier to decide whether a university education is worth your time and money.
There are plenty of other pros and cons to consider before choosing to go to university, and the answer should be different for everyone. It can be difficult to envisage a future at the age of 17/18 so take time to explore the suggestions above. If you have any questions, post in the comment and I will try my best to answer or signpost you to the right place insha’Allah.
Robiu is a history graduate and currently works as an Inclusion Officer at a Russell group university. He provides institutional guidance on matters relating to the experience and inclusion of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic students. His writings focus primarily in representation and participation of young British Muslims in the UK. His twitter handle is @robiusalisu