Does the academic university experience match the £27,000 price tag?

Backbencher September 25, 2013 2
Does the academic university experience match the £27,000 price tag?

Lizzie Roberts asks whether universities are providing value for money.

If I had one pound for every time I heard “What am I actually paying £9,000 for?” from fellow University students, I would have probably already paid off my student loan. The trebling of tuition fees by the Coalition Government in 2012 left many students feeling disappointed with their current and future prospects at University. Those who have still decided to go on to higher education have expressed concerns regarding the lack of contact hours from their institution, the quality of teaching and poor feedback on their work.

Since 2012 university applications have fallen, with UCAS data indicating that applications from English students are at their lowest since 2009. Yet, for students who decide to follow their aspirations of going on to gain a degree, it can be questioned whether they are getting value for their money.

After hearing numerous complaints from disgruntled students, I decided to conduct a small survey: 30 current and past university students answered seven questions related to their university experience, and the results were not entirely shocking. Out of those polled, 66% answered that they did not see their contact hours as adequate and 53% stated they did not feel their university provided them with enough teaching, support and feedback. Now that students are paying for courses, their expectations have risen. An undergraduate can be considered a paying customer, and therefore by increasing the cost of education the service itself should be seen to improve. However, out of the 30 students, 74% responded that the quality of their teaching had not improved (the other 26% that they were not sure!).

Now that students are paying for courses, their expectations have risen.

One issue which seemed to resound with all students is the lack of contact hours they have with their university in the form of lectures, seminars and workshops. I am a full time university student on a dual major course; in my first year, I had 15 contact hours a week. As a social science major it is understandable to have a lot of reading hours, but is it acceptable for tutors to ask students to write essays and then state that they will not be marked? Moreover, is it acceptable to wait up to 6 weeks to receive back your marked coursework when paying £9,000 a year?

It must be stated however, which may be of a surprise to some students, that universities are not benefiting financially from the increase in fees. The government originally funded the universities directly but this has been taken away, leaving students to foot the bill themselves. Subsequently, student expectations of university have changed and the institutions, especially those charging the maximum fees, must address these new expectations if they are to attract students in this freer market. Students must be listened to, or they will be registering dissatisfaction through student surveys and university rankings. Prospective students may well consider these results when deciding which college to attend.

Students must be listened to, or they will be registering dissatisfaction through student surveys and university rankings.

My mother graduated from university in 1979; she paid no tuition fees, instead being given a local authority grant for living expenses and receiving support from her parents. During this time, she and other students did not have grand anticipations of university education as they knew they were not going to be in debt for gaining a degree. However, with today’s student faced with the prospect of leaving university with £27,000 worth of debt, they are looking for a better experience and quality of education. With over half of the students polled stating they were not adequately supported by their university, is it time they stepped up to the mark and matched the extortionate fees they are charging today’s undergraduates?

Lizzie is a second year History and Politics student at Lancaster University, with a strong passion for American politics, equality and good old British sarcasm.

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