Student Contract with Their Universities

For at least some of the courses all but three English higher education institutions will charge tuition fees of £9,250. The average tuition fee at English higher education institutions will increase to £9,110 in 2017-18, up from £8,905 the year before (source: The World university ranking).

A leaked government document in 2016 revealed that our universities were not providing good quality teaching despite the increased fees. The leaked report goes on to say that even the Russel Group universities cannot justify the £9,000 fees for courses. A further disclosure suggests that the target of doubling the number of young people going to university will not be achieved. Open Democracy UK has calculated that the actual cost to teach an undergraduate for a year is about £4,500. Having worked at one of our top universities as an Accountant, I more or less agree with the assessment made by Open Democracy UK. We had many discussions how we could raise extra funds to attract the best professors in their field and to buy the best equipment so that we could continue to provide world-class research facilities. There is nothing wrong with this as an objective.

However, research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies has found that an average student will leave with £40,000 debt after they have completed their degree and although by 2015 the average starting salary for a new graduate was £30,000 it will still take 24 years or so to pay off the student debt. The question is, are the students getting value for money?

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, has said: “students really, really care about contact hours.” There are several courses with only eight hours a week or lower. Save the Student also ran their National Student Money Survey, between May and June 2016, polling over 2,000 university students in the UK. The proportion of students who felt that the value of their degree was good or very good was just 37% – down from 53% in 2012. What seems to please students and needs to improve is to make lessons more interesting and support or help from tutors is provided.

To ensure value for money for the degree students undertake I suggest an upfront contract between the students and the university that can be independently quantified and covers at least the following areas: –

  • Good quality and up to date subject notes are provided by the university;
  • Agreed contact hours with students with extra hours to be made available as required by the students;
  • Detailed feedback when returning coursework;
  • Agreement with the student on the hours he/she must attend and minimum coursework during the year they must hand in;

Failure by the university to meet agreed standards should be met by punitive charge and refund to the students.

 

* Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team and the Chair of the English Party

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5 Comments

  • If you want better student experiences, treat academic staff better – fight against the swingeing pension cuts, force universities to make it easier to get permanent jobs, reduce the casualisation of the workforce, and stop endlessly monitoring us for no purpose other than self-aggrandising ministers and Vice-Chancellors who want to buff their CV’s. How’s about that, rather than a ‘contract’?

  • Chloe Hutchinson 9th May '18 - 7:53pm

    Completely agree with Tim Oliver!

    As a humanities student I do find the number of contact hours infuriating at times, especially when I compare to my friends in STEM subjects. However that is the nature of my degree – it is much more self directed, giving me the freedom to study what I am most interested in.

    On the side of student cost in education (for humanities) – universities should (and do already) provide enough resources in the library and online through journal subsriptions, be able to pay postgraduate/PhD students to assist with the teaching of seminars and marking, and ensure that there is enough study space (I could go on)

    On the student finance side, living costs are the issue not fees.

  • A leaked government document in 2016 revealed that our universities were not providing good quality teaching despite the increased fees. The leaked report goes on to say that even the Russel Group universities cannot justify the £9,000 fees for courses.

    I think too much is being read into what was actually obtained by the press, namely a page from a private briefing memo for a No 10 meeting, that stated ‘beliefs’ about teaching quality and fee levels.

    I do agree with the main thrust of the article, that some form of service agreement between student and university is probably needed now. Although when I went to University, you were expected to attend lectures and make your own notes and coursework counted towards your final degree award…

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 11th May '18 - 1:49pm

    Thank you for your comments. I am a bit cynical from working at Imperial College and the stories I heard that a lot of the lecturers real focus was research and not teaching. That now cannot be right because of the cost.

  • Peter Watson 11th May '18 - 3:16pm

    @Tahir Maher “working at Imperial College and the stories I heard that a lot of the lecturers real focus was research and not teaching.”
    As a student there 30 years ago I would suggest that is nothing new!

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