Thursday, 26 May 2011

The University of Surrey and the real fees scandal

Starting from 2012 the University of Surrey (where I am a student) will charge the maximum allowable tuition fee rate of £9,000 a year.

However, there's a scandal hidden here. Here's their official list of reasons for charging the maximum rate:
  • We are taking steps to manage the loss of 63% of Government funding for teaching.
  • Analysis indicates we need to charge an average fee of £9,000 to ensure we compensate for this and to maintain the quality of the student experience.
  • We wish to avoid the very real danger that charging less than £9,000 will have a negative impact on the perception of our quality
  • We need to cover the loss of £5m in 2011-12 in Government capital funding. In order to continue to invest therefore in the infrastructure that underpins a high quality student experience and financial sustainability, we need to generate income from tuition fees.
  • Our fees need to be approved by OFFA and along with other universities charging over £6,000 we will need to have an approved ‘Access Agreement’. This means we need to commit additional expenditure to outreach and retention activities to support the widening participation agenda.
  • We have also taken into account the risks that may come from; 
–cuts in tier 4 visa numbers and a likely reduction in demand which could lead to a 20% drop in overseas students. The potential impact of this is around £3m.
–deeper Government cuts in student numbers, teaching grants or research funding.
Now, I'm currently a student representative for my year, this gives me the opportunity to talk to staff casually more than most students. And, last Christmas, I attended a dinner for the Staff Student Liaison Committee (SSLC) where I took the opportunity to ask a member of staff what was likely to happen with fees.

What he revealed is, in light of the decision to charge £9,000 fees, scandalous. It turns out that the fee level required by the university in order to make up for the reduction in government funding is £6,000. That's a full £3,000 less than the figure they intend to charge. However, I also found out the reason for why they were likely to charge £9,000. The reason? Well, they've already given it above, though it is rather buried. So let's highlight it:
"We wish to avoid the very real danger that charging less than £9,000 will have a negative impact on the perception of our quality"
And that's exactly what this member of staff told me. They knew that universities such as Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College were likely to charge £9,000 and they were afraid that if they charged less then they would be seen as being a lower quality university. The reason for this is a mild to major obsession with becoming an equal to Imperial College and Southhampton in the league tables - particularly with regards to engineering. Whilst I'm not allowed to talk about the specifics of what I learned on the SSLC, I can tell you that in the biannual departmental board of studies meetings there is a concentrated focus on getting the best rankings possible which is backed up by pressure from above to become the equal of other top institutions in every possible way.

The rest of their arguments are nonsense - the only things a £6,000 fee level won't cover are:
–cuts in tier 4 visa numbers and a likely reduction in demand which could lead to a 20% drop in overseas students. The potential impact of this is around £3m.
 –deeper Government cuts in student numbers, teaching grants or research funding.
Well, the first is certainly a plausible reason. The intake for the coming academic year is no different from normal but it may well decrease in future years. Why this necessitates an immediate rise in fees is questionable though. The second reason is complete bunk. The government is not intending to make any further cuts, indeed, research funding is in fact protected. And, if they were to, then fees should be increased in response to them, not as a pre-emptive action.

So that leaves us with just one genuine reason for the extra £3,000 - a possible reduction in international student numbers. Now, I'm sorry, but the potential loss of income in this sector is not anywhere near high enough to justify an extra three grand.

And I should emphasise, with these new fee levels, the University will make no cuts. They did originally threaten staff redundancies in a move probably calculated to put pressure on the government to lift the fees cap. However, they successfully bid for £600,000 funding to help people at risk of losing their jobs during the recession so these redundancies are now unlikely to happen, and would be prevented with just the £6,000 fee level anyway.

Meanwhile, our vice-chancellor, Professor Snowden, is the UK's eleventh best-paid vice-chancellor and had salary of £285,000 in 2008 – an 11% rise on the previous year. And, sure as eggs are eggs,  his pay level will be higher now. He also enjoys a house provided at the university's expense, generous travel expenses and regularly benefits from sumptuous meals at a regular stream of official events and functions. He won't be making any cuts in his salary or perks - especially not when Surrey will be charging maximum fees. So, whilst students will be paying nine grand a year and facing an uncertain jobs market, the vice-chancellor won't even need to tighten his belt.

This is outrageous. The university could afford to charge far lower fees if it wanted - and especially if it looked at ways of cutting excess spending of the sort embodied by the vice-chancellor. There is a vast disparity here between what the people running the university are going through and what the students and ordinary staff are going through.

Surrey will be charging three thousand pounds per student per year more than it needs to because "other universities will be doing the same". And those other universities no doubt used the same argument.

This should be a national scandal. The NUS and our student union should be kicking up a storm over it. But they won't. As far as I know, our student union didn't even bother to question the university's decision. Students at Surrey are being betrayed by the university and by our union. So who will stand up for us? I'll tell you; no one.

9 comments:

  1. I just checked out the financial assist schemes at Surrey University - it took me about 5 minutes to find this information - I feel sure that Intelligent University Students could find it faster, However, here is some useful information:

    1. A non repayable grant is available for study at Surrey Uni up to the value of £2,906 per year.

    2. A Fee loan is available up to £4,950 per year (for outside London) and £6,928 (inside London) repayable at £30 per month only when you start earning more than £19,000 per year.

    The loans attract a low rate of interest (at the rate of inflation), which means that the amount you pay back will have broadly the same value as the amount you have borrowed. No profit is made on the loan itself.

    3. A Scholarship of £1,000 is also available (non-repayable)

    4. If you have a scholarship then you can also receive a non-repayable bursary of £4,200 or £2,100 if you do not have a scholarship.

    So by my calculations using the above facts, your complaint about fees of £9,000 should take into account

    £2,906 Grant
    £4,950 virtually interest free loan
    £1,000 scholarship allowance
    £4,200 Bursary
    ------
    £13,056 potential income for a £9,000 course

    I continue to campaign to abolish tuition fees, but until the Conservatives and Labour stop blocking any reduction the deal you have seems to be more than fair.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I just checked out the financial assist schemes at Surrey University - it took me about 5 minutes to find this information - I feel sure that Intelligent University Students could find it faster..., However, here is some useful information:

    1. A non repayable grant is available for study at Surrey Uni up to the value of £2,906 per year.

    2. A Fee loan is available up to £4,950 per year (for outside London) and £6,928 (inside London) repayable at £30 per month only when you start earning more than £19,000 per year.

    The loans attract a low rate of interest (at the rate of inflation), which means that the amount you pay back will have broadly the same value as the amount you have borrowed. No profit is made on the loan itself.

    3. A Scholarship of £1,000 is also available (non-repayable)

    4. If you have a scholarship then you can also receive a non-repayable bursary of £4,200 or £2,100 if you do not have a scholarship.

    So by my calculations using the above facts, your complaint about fees of £9,000 should take into account

    £2,906 Grant
    £4,950 virtually interest free loan
    £1,000 scholarship allowance
    £4,200 Bursary
    ------
    £13,056 potential income for a £9,000 course

    I continue to campaign to abolish tuition fees, but until the Conservatives and Labour stop blocking any reduction the deal you have seems to be more than fair.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting to see further confirmation of what I was speculating about back in March - http://www.tenpencepiece.net/blog/2011/03/02/are-university-vcs-about-to-become-the-new-bogey-men/

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Anonymous

    I think I should point out that the grant is unchanged from the old system. The loan is also unchanged. The scholarship figure is unchanged. The bursary, however, is increased, by £1,000 without a scholarship and by £2,000 with a scholarship.

    So that's an increase in funds of one to two thousand for a small minority of students whilst everyone will be paying £3,000 more than the university actually needs to charge.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I was lucky enough to be in the weird period inbetween when the fees went from 1000 to 3000, now my little brother has gone to university and the fees have increased to 9k. (I went in 2006-2009) I have heard that the quality of the teaching has not improved. this is utterly unaccceptable, if they are increasing the prices of their services by almost tenfold, then the services themselves should improve tenfold.

    If we are going to pay this much for a degree, then why is there a record unemployment of graduates, the universities owe us an improvement in teaching and intergration into the world of work.

    ReplyDelete
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I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

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