Earlier this week one of my history seminars was cut short; our Professor let us leave 40 minutes early from a two-hour session, one of the two in an eight contact-hour week. We’d discussed everything we needed to, he said. Getting let out of class early for most is a god-send, a blessed excuse to head home and crawl back into bed; or else hit up the library and get a head start on next week’s reading there and then.
Except, as we were trudging down Forum Hill in the omnipresent drizzle that seems to refuse to leave Exeter at the moment, my course mate turned to me and said, “I can’t help but think we’re paying nine grand for this, y’know?”
And that got me thinking.
The tuition debate is a familiar one to this generation of students, but as I arrived home to my empty student house, aware that my other housemates wouldn’t be home until 5:30 at the earliest from their Biology and Medical Science labs, I started to think about another aspect of the tuition debate that is often overlooked.
The issue of costing and ‘getting your money’s worth’ for specific degrees.
Contact hours are a sore topic amongst Humanities students, but looking at it objectively, is it really fair we’re paying the same as the 22-hour a week Engineers for less teaching time? The universities will say that our tuition fees contribute to the overall experience, allow investments in improvements to the library, and faculty renovations. Except library membership is free across the country, and with the new shiny Biosciences building going up on Exeter’s campus, I can’t imagine they’ll be investing in a new History or English building any time soon.
is it really fair we’re paying the same as the 22-hour a week Engineers for less teaching time?
In fact, despite being some of Exeter’s biggest courses in terms of numbers, the Humanities facilities are painfully out-dated in comparison to the Science labs and Business School, as they are, I imagine, across many UK universities. You can’t help but wonder what we, as humanities students, are actually paying for. Our library subscriptions to archives, and our lecturers and their time spent both teaching us and marking work, sure, except these are standard requirements for all degree programmes. In terms of Humanities, where else is our £9,000 a year going?
As an FOI request in 2014 by the University of Bristol’s student paper demonstrated, more often than not, fees from Humanities and Arts students are used to subsidise the sciences, with around half of the £9,000 each year from Arts students being allocated to other departments.
Following cuts to the Arts and Humanities, while the Sciences have retained their state funding, this is hardly surprising. Universities are attempting to cover the impacts of cuts by spreading fees where the money is needed most; which in this case is not your resident Theology department. Humanities don’t require fancy facilities, I appreciate that; we don’t need expensive testing chambers for chemical experiments, or mechanical equipment for Engineering. But, if we don’t need these additional facilities, isn’t it only fair we pay less than our contemporaries who do? Perhaps the tuition fee allocation works differently from the way most students assume it does, but in this case a comprehensive breakdown of where the money goes wouldn’t go amiss.
The more I talk to fellow Humanities students the more disillusionment I become aware of. A friend who does English snidely commented that £9,000 can’t quite stretch to covering their book costs, which takes at least a cool £100 out of her maintenance grant a term. Another course mate pointed out that with Humanities degrees, all work is independent; lecturers ask us questions we know the answers to through our reading, our essays are our ideas and seminars our discussion. As they put it, “we’re essentially paying to educate ourselves. It’s just buying a degree because we know that’s what’s valued in the world of work.” And, on my worst days, I must admit I agree with them. With the unspoken assumption we’ll all be leaving with at least a 2:1, I sometimes feel as though I’m paying £30,000 for the privilege of a degree certificate.
I sometimes feel as though I’m paying £30,000 for the privilege of a degree certificate
The issue of the cost of Arts and Humanities degrees over the Sciences has been raised before. Back in 2011, an article in The Telegraph reported that David Willetts, the then Universities Minister, said that institutions should limit Arts and Humanities tuition fees to £6,000 because they are cheaper to run than the Sciences and Medicine. Universities in turn responded to this by arguing that the comments were “flawed”, as Willetts had failed to recognise the impact of cuts to higher education budgets.
Though somewhat paradoxical to be criticising the rising cost of fees from the perspective of an administration that had just cut the education budget, Willett’s point stands. Arts and Humanities degrees are cheaper to run, and I fully understand students feeling a little bitter that the cost remains the same as the Sciences
On some level I feel that we shouldn’t think like this. We shouldn’t be demanding more of our underpaid and overstressed lecturers; we shouldn’t be expecting an already stretched university budget to invest in better facilities for the Humanities- but when faced with the almost incomprehensibly large sum of £30,000 worth of debt on graduation, can you really blame us? To expect our full money’s worth, not for the ‘university experience’ in general, but for our specific degree, whether it be Dentistry or Events Management, is only natural.
What can be done about it though, is another matter. As student numbers continue to rise, decreasing resources and timetabled teaching time, and the first generation of £30,000-in debt graduates navigates the working world, I’m sure the question of getting our money’s worth, in Humanities degrees especially, will be risen again. For now though, in the words of my seminar friend who got me thinking about this all in the first place; “we might hate it but we know that there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.”
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