£9,000 – the maximum amount a university in England can charge in tuition fees per student per year. As an income, £9,000 per year is not very much, but if you took it from someone’s wages we’re sure they’d complain. While this amount is the current maximum that can be charged for tuition, we reckon you’d struggle to find many universities who charge less than this full rate. So, what does this cash buy for the students who pay, and is it value for money?
Of course, the fees will go towards any costs associated with the courses, such as wages for lecturers, and the upkeep of the colleges themselves. These expenses may be during term time or all-year round, so to keep it simple, looking at a 52-week year (rather than the shorter academic year), each student is paying just over £173 per week. When all of the students are accounted for, across each year group, this is a fairly tidy sum of money. In fact figures released for 2014-15 showed universities in England had operating surpluses of nearly £1.8 billion!
Does this mean that universities are making a profit from student fees?
UK Universities, who represent the sector, argued not, saying, “UK universities do not make a profit. Any income they receive is spent on day-to-day activities, or reinvested for the future.” The spokesperson continued, “A surplus is essential for universities to manage short-term fluctuations in income, from unanticipated changes to student numbers or unexpected costs. It is also needed for reinvestment in future capacity, including investment in new teaching spaces and research facilities, and refurbishment of existing buildings.”
Of course, we can understand that a university will need to make some money for reinvestment and so forth, but how much is too much? The University of Oxford, for example, boasted a surplus greater than the entirety of Scotland’s university sector with a budget-busting £191 million compared to Scotland’s combined surplus of £166 million. Imperial College London had the second-highest surplus with £143m while Liverpool University was in third place with a surplus of nearly £65m.
The interesting point to note for these latest figures is that they are the first set to be released including all three years of undergraduates paying the £9,000 fees at the same time since the yearly cost of tuition was nearly trebled in 2012.
As a result, English universities saw a £4 billion per year increase in income from tuition fees since 2012-13, much of which may be going straight into the pockets of staff, with spending rising by £1.3 billion over the same period!
With other figures having shown university bosses are earning salaries in the hundreds of thousands of pounds per year, and others claiming huge expenses for hotel stays and travel, it is no wonder that students feel aggrieved about where their fees are going. Indeed, cost is one of the biggest reasons against going to university. While universities need money to operate, these figures may lead many people to wonder whether they are really offering value for money.
Gradates certainly don’t want to feel that they are carrying thousands in debt in order to pay for their lecturers to have a lifestyle of luxury. Nor will they want to feel that their fees are being wasted by their universities. Then there is the fact that a university degree by itself no longer guarantees a good career – depending on which course you take, since there are only certain degrees that lead to a job in a related field.
What do you think? Is a university course worth £9,000 per year, or could universities do more to lower the cost to students?