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With Great (Premium) Power Comes Great Responsibility

Posted by Kristina Murkett in ,

How much would you value your degree at? According to a survey conducted by student finance website Student Money Saver, 81% of students believe that they are overpaying for tuition, and value their degree far less than it is costing them. Only 18% believed that their degree was worth £8000, even though 73% of those taking part in the survey paid at least that much. Yet are these statistics just the result of dissatisfaction with the 2012 fee rise; or are they because university course standards are no longer matching up to the fees being charged?

Findings from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) also support these levels of discontent. A survey of 15,046 UK students found that they have just 10 minutes extra with university lecturers since the £9,000 tuition fee cap; and only have an average of 14.2 hours of 'contact time' (e.g. lectures and seminars) per week in the first and second years of their degree. Whilst students spend another 14.3 hours on average in private study, this is still far less than the 40 hours a week of study suggested in the Quality Assurance Agency's (QAA) guidelines.

To make matters worse, the finding show that students do not attend about 9% of lectures and seminars laid on by their university, with the most common reasons for absence being that undergraduates did not find the lectures useful and that the notes were available online. Long gone are the days when universities could simply offer lectures with 500 students sitting in a room taking notes from slides on a screen - universities have to up their game in order to match growing expectations.

Yet how should universities vary the academic experience? When asked what their top three priorities would be for institutional expenditure, 48% of UK students polled said "reducing fee levels", followed by having more teaching hours and reducing the size of teaching groups (both 35%). They also brought up is the issue of who they are being taught by - one student from the University of Chester said that 'for almost a whole module in my first year, we were taught solely by PhD students, not lecturers. I definitely didn't feel justified paying £9,000 in tuition fees to be taught by another student.'

Inevitably, with greater debt for students comes greater demand from students, and this continues to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Currently, 6 in 10 universities are in the highest fee bracket, and many argue that this is result of their desire to appear more prestigious - if they don't raise their fees they may look 'cheap,' and this may in turn weaken their status. Yet if students deliver on expense, then universities must deliver on expectations, or they risk weakening their status anyway.

It is not all doom and gloom however - 69% of students are still optimistic that their education will increase their earning potential. Starting salaries still vary hugely though depending on university and subject choice - graduates from Oxbridge receive average starting salaries that are around £7,600 (42%) higher per year than those who graduated from post-1992 universities (e.g. Nottingham Trent or Manchester Met); despite coming out with the same level of debt. Degrees such as Medicine, Economics, Computer Science and Engineering also famously lead to the highest starting salaries, with Psychology, History, Philosophy and English infamously ranked the lowest.

Therefore students have to consider very carefully whether the premium tuition fees will guarantee them a premium education. Bushara Awan, head of young people programmes at the Money Charity, said: "It is crucial that students understand the terms of the loan and what this means for them. The rise in tuition fees ultimately means most people repay their student loan for the majority of their working life."

Image courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons