Written by Robert Jones
The tuition fees debate seems to have hardly left the forefront of British politics since their introduction in 2004. Tuition Fees have provided a reaction from the political world that only the most divisive of issues can equal. Both the arguments in favour and against not only the tripling of University fees but for the fees themselves are well-catalogued; £9000 Tuition fees will help UK Universities other than Oxford and Cambridge to achieve international recognition and produce world-renowned research; £9000 Tuition Fees will also put unbearable financial burdens on middle class families who won’t qualify for Grants or Bursaries to aid University costs. The back-and-forth goes on, amplifying as we grow closer to election day.
In the midst of this continued debate the one group which truly matters however has been marginalised and defamed. As a student myself I feel that my peers’ efforts to voice their opinions through demonstration have almost universally been unduly branded as violent or thuggish in the national press. Likewise, Student Satisfaction Polls have been pushed to the sidelines as a mere aid to help prospective University students choose where they want to study, rather than being used as a means to holding our tutors to account.
In coming to the end of my first year studying Political Science and Philosophy at University one thing has become glaringly evident to me: If students are to continue to pay £9000 per year for tuition across the board then better value for money must be offered or the system scrapped. I must stress however that I do not claim to be adding anything new to this debate other than my own personal experiences. Consequently I would love for fellow students to comment and share their experiences. Given my University’s unhealthy relationship with student demonstration and protest I won’t be revealing where I study, only that it is one of 24 Russell Group Universities.
My first year of University education began in early October last year and ended just over a month ago before the Easter holiday and revision period. I, like many fellow students, am currently at University only to sit exams. In the five months I have actually spent at University being taught (two and a half months before the Christmas break and the same length of time afterwards) I have had 12 hours worth of lectures and seminars a week. Other costs aside this means that I pay around £40-£50 per taught lecture and seminar. This however does not account for the fact that 3 of my seminars only run fortnightly, meaning that I can have as little as 9 or 10 contact hours per week. The above figure also doesn’t take into account that my lessons aren’t a full hour but rather 50 minutes and nor does it take into account the number of lectures and seminars which have been cancelled. In one of my modules this amounted to as much as five hours worth of cancelled seminars in my first Semester.
Whilst I appreciate however that the £9000 per year which students pay does not cover five months of tuition alone, it does make up a substantial part of it. In fear of painting too bleak a picture it is worth pointing out that students in the sciences and similarly practical fields have invariably gained from the system put in place in 2010. Blanket £9000 fees across all courses have seen those whose courses require access to labs, more contact time and specialised equipment achieve far better value for money than Arts and Social Sciences students. In essence an Arts student’s fees pay for their tuition, their usage of a Students’ Union and their access to the University Library whilst also subsidising the learning of their peers in the Sciences.
In my experience, angst towards the grossly unfair Tuition Fees system has only been offset by the quality of tuition, excellence of the university facilities and the invaluable experience of living away from home. I fear that for some of my peers though this might not have been the case.
It is clear then that in this coalition’s and it’s predecessor’s obsession with having an internationally competitive higher education system, our leaders have lost sight of what universities are: communities of researchers who serve the common good and their students, rather than the ambitions of politicians. For those who, like me, value the merits of free-to-all education over the price tag placed on renewing Trident or allowing excessive untaxed corporate wealth creation, I urge you to vote for the party which best reflects this. Don’t be bullied out of voting for a party that will promise to take a clear and fair stance on Higher Education. The nature of these Parties and their support will mean that they stand no real hope of gaining any significant influence in governing Britain post-election. But you will at the very least have sent a message to the established British party political system. It’s why on May 7th I will be voting for the Green Party. And its why Students should vote for whoever they believe will fight for the fairest, most affordable education system for them and the next generation. University might not be for everyone but it should at least be free to everyone who deserves, needs or wants it.