The Big Debate: Should degrees with higher funding demand higher tuition fees?
As a humanities student, I am used to seeing my payments to the University redirected away from my own course. Science students, in particular, seem to benefit most from others’ tuition payments due to the unfair distribution methods conducted by Universities countrywide. As well as the vastly superior job prospects these students enjoy upon graduation, they prosper during their courses from the experience of working with millions of pounds’ worth of equipment and resources the likes of which a humanities student could never imagine.
They also have far more contact hours, including practical sessions utilising the aforementioned equipment. I would imagine the same amount is spent on an hour’s practical seminar for a Chemistry student as is spent on four History seminars. This inequality is unfounded and ridiculous. At no other institution would you be expected to pay the same amount for two things so obviously and incredibly different.
The argument that you get the same thing out of both courses at the end- your degree- is weak. A clear value difference can be determined in degrees based on the jobs they are expected to open up for you. For this reason, if we value the degree alone and disregard the experience, contacts and resources made available to you along the way, surely the degrees shown to provide the best job prospects should be made more expensive to take?
Obviously there is no easy way to navigate this issue- nobody wants to pay more, and disparity in spending would perhaps disincline the lower-class students from striving for more expensive courses- but something has to change. The fact that there is no easy solution should not prevent students from striving to change an unfair and imbalanced method of charging.
In the humanities courses at Sussex, you would expect at a minimum for your books and printing costs, necessary for every lecture and seminar and often totalling in the hundreds for a single term, to be covered by the University’s extortionate fees. Drama students are expected to attend plays that charge at the door- this is similarly outside of the University’s spending, and something it is expected passionate students will grin and bear.
When prices are so high and yet funding is so evidently low, and students are expected (if not forced) to spend out of their own pockets to make it through their degree, the only thing I can think to call it is literal and unabashed exploitation.
I urge the University to respond to the issue of disparity in spending on courses by making a clear change in favour of the subjects whose students’ funds have been shifted to other disciplines with little regard for these other subjects.
As an English and History student, it can at times be difficult to figure out exactly what I’m paying £9000/per year for.
There I sit, printing out another 50-page document out of my own pocket for one of my eight weekly contact hours, thinking, “where the hell is my money going?”
It is not a big jump to go from this sense of frustration to jealously eyeing up all of your science student associates with their 30 contact hours, expensive equipment and materials, and top of the range computer software. It is clear that in reality different degrees cost different amounts; those studying the likes of Medicine, Biology and Chemistry are getting a lot more money invested in their degree than those doing Philosophy or English.
Although at first glance this may seem unfair, is it not true that it costs a lot more to reach the same level of proficiency in Biology than it does in English?
Certain degrees necessitate teaching methods that are more expensive; there really is no disputing that.
And at the end of the day, we choose what we want to study at university. If you want to choose a degree that will be the best value for money then go ahead; the majority of us are here because we are passionate about our subject or potential career path.
Looking at the current approach of the British government to higher education, it is clear they would not agree to reducing tuition fees for cheaper degree programmes. The only outcome we would achieve by raising this issue is the increase in tuition fees for more expensive degree programmes. Increasing tuition for anybody whatsoever is the antithesis of what the student movement should be focusing our energies on.
If we are to combat the brutal attacks of the British government on students, our most important tool is solidarity. Infighting amongst students from different disciplines is the last thing we need. The implications of differing tuition fees will also perpetuate existing class divides between different disciplines, and through society as a whole.
Generally speaking, the more costly degree programmes lead to higher-earning careers. With students from wealthy backgrounds more able and willing to enrol in degree programmes demanding higher tuition, the rich will stay rich and the poor will stay poor.
A functional modern economy requires the knowledge and skills of individuals from a variety of disciplines. Having people educated in science and technology is essential to upholding our way of living, and so it is in everyone’s interest to facilitate that.
Do I mind that some of my money is going towards funding the next generation of doctors and pharmacists? No. Universities redistribute funds according to need; this is why we are able to provide bursaries to students from low-income backgrounds and internship opportunities to first generation scholars. Allocating funds to more pricey degree programmes is just another part of this redistribution process, which makes learning more accessible to everyone.
Of course, there are still issues with the lack of funding for humanities subjects, and we should lobby the University to provide our respective departments with more affordable books and printing. But let’s not allow our demands for better resources to be detrimental to the opportunities of other students.
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons