It’s time to talk about value for money. Not on balls, not on bills, but on what we came here to do: our degrees. For £9000 a year, (£9,250 for the poor incoming Freshers), you expect a degree of service from a university which purports to have an international reputation.
With students in Biology expected to pay lab fees, regardless of whether it is £12 or £1200 a year, it seems to beg the question: what do we actually get for our money? If you’re Sub Honours student in the Arts, consider yourself lucky. Having a whopping 12 hours of contact time a week seems hectic compared to the four you will get in Honours. Two hours per module is not an adequate reflection of a university which supposedly offers some of the finest teaching in the country.
It’s not just students who struggle. One exasperated lecturer, on possibly the fastest lecture I have ever received, talked about how the number of lectures on his chosen subject had been reduced from seven to two a semester. Trying to condense that amount of history, knowledge and even pleasantries is not only a struggle for students – but a struggle for the lecturer. Two fifty minute slots does not constitute enough time to engage some of the toughest questions of our entire national and international history.
It’s understandable that university must deliver a ‘step-up’ into the world of higher education, but how much is a step up? British universities offer some of the fewest contact hours internationally, with some American students having three to four hours of contact time a day. I’m sure some of us would perish at that thought. However, it does seem understandable that for the large amount of money we pay in full – including food, accommodation and even going out – university as an experience does not always equate to the value of what we pay.
The critics in the backrow, or perhaps the Department of Education, may say that education has to be supplemented with reading. This is all well and good, when your library can fit more than one tenth of its student population. Additionally, if you are lucky enough to study a subject in the humanities, it is entirely possible that you will spend money to the department on course readers and further materials. In History, these can cost anywhere from six to thirty pounds, considerable if you’ve got six modules a year. The idea that this money is not set aside, all £9000, for students to get a one-hundred page course reader printed, does stretch belief.
I think it would be unfair to ignore the science side of this. Not only do science students have to pay expensive fees for equipment, lab use and external work experience, there is also the question of how, precisely, resources are designed for their use. To Arts students, the library is our playground (however small that playground might be…). It seems the massive increase and development of tuition fees has simply not given the appropriate return that we expect – and deserve.
It is difficult to view the university system as a business. The love, care, and passion which academics and indeed, students, pour into work makes it difficult to separate the financial with what is rewarding. Unfortunately, for those of us who will be paying back a great deal of money for the next thirty years of our life, it raises the important questions. At what point does lecturing, tutoring, researching and essay writing become analysed by how it compares with what we pay? At what point can we ask, or dare I say demand, more for our money? Well, when we’ve spent thirty years repaying loans, I think that is a question we should have the right to ask.