A degree at any cost?


Early on in our Design Thinking module we were asked to run through a quick calculation.

Add up the number of hours of lectures we have (172 in my case, though I am going to add a generous 12 hours to allow for marking and surgery times with tutors).

Then divide the cost of our course fees by this figure to work out how much we pay per hour of lectures, or by dividing again by 60, per minute. International students pay around 50% more.

The aim of the exercise was to put in perspective how much money we would be wasting by turning up late or skipping a lecture.

This value-awareness was intended as a smart initiative to reduce tardiness.

However, it cuts both ways. Now when a lecturer is late starting I can’t help thinking at the back of my mind that they better make up for it with what they’re about to impart. You see, I want my money’s worth!!

Also, at the end of each lecture (normally three hours) I now often reflect: was that worth £140? Was watching that TED video really worth £8?? Did I really just spend £90 doing a personality test? Did I really need to fork out £280 attending an art fair? Did I get good value?

Often, the answer is yes. Whilst I could do many of these things for free or for a fraction of the cost they would be lacking the necessary context to make them a valuable learning experience. However, when I hand in an assignment and get nothing more than a couple of words feedback it denigrates the whole exercise.

I wonder if the tutors ever ask similar questions of themselves? With an average class size of 30, do they reflect on whether their morning’s efforts were worth £4,200+?

On occasion, I have had lectures at the weekend that last eight hours and contain over 100 students. As the lecturer drives home afterwards does he reflect that he has just generated £100,000 of income for the university?

But, as my History teacher used to say of himself, I digress.

The value-for-money considerations that I am making as an MA student are going to become more prevalent with the introduction of tuition fees for undergrads.

For example, Kingston University has announced it will be charging £7,000 per term (ironically, it’s a shame it could not justify the full 9k!). This means more people will be considering is it really worth it? In new ‘entrepreneurial’ Britain would it not be better to just get on and do it, instead of spending three years studying and generating up to £50,000 debt. That equates to an enormous amount of venture capital!

Up until now unis have been like a cheap restaurant in a tourist trap. Repeat customers are not a concern and ultimately there are always people lined up to get in.

In the future universities will need to become far more savvy in engaging and attracting the best students and the rise of on-line reviews from former students should hopefully keep them on their toes.


2 responses »

  1. Interesting post. Something to consider as well:

    Buildings, libraries, insurance, electricity, maintenance, support staff and other things take up a significant amount of the university fees. So while it’s a good start to think about how fees translate into an hourly rate for lectures, it’s just a small part of what fees pay for. In fact, universities would run at a deficit if it existed only on fees.

    It’s getting into actuarial science a bit, but something to consider in the debate. But yes, students will likely consider university as more of an “investment” than perhaps they did before!

  2. All good points, and ones I did consider. However I wanted to keep my reflection simple, based on the User perspective (mine as a ‘customer of education’) and true to the exercise we did in class.

    It would have been too long a post if I had reflected on the number of times I have had to sit in a classroom so cold we could barely speak or so hot we have to open all the windows and then read posters trumpeting the Uni’s green efforts! And, the less said about the jackhammers the better.

    From my perspective having a decent environment in which to work/ learn is really just a ‘Hygiene’ factor that I think any prospective student would expect of a UK establishment.

    I also didn’t cover the ‘opportunity costs’. What opportunity am I missing by dedicating 1,280 hours to my education? For example, I could be earning £7,590.40 at the minimum wage. From this perspective the costs of my MA just doubled! 😉

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