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Students campaign for cheaper graduation

Sussex students celebrate their graduation last year

Sussex students celebrate their graduation last year

As many students prepare for winter graduation at the end of this month, some graduates are dissatisfied with the cost of tickets to attend the event.

Graduation tickets for students at Sussex, which include a programme and after-ceremony drinks reception, are free of charge. Guest tickets, however, cost £25 per head. Moreover, compulsory gown, hood and mortarboard cap rental set students back, on average, a further £40. 

Heli Clarke, one of a group of post-graduates currently organising an alternative ceremony, urges that it is the University’s duty to award students their graduation certificates and questions why our tuition fees cannot cover the costs of such an event. Clarke spoke to The Badger of her frustration over the arguably overpriced occasion, which she believes is a largely impersonal affair. Indeed, some students like Clarke are reluctant to shell out more money to the university for what is essentially a thirty-second mosey to the stage for a handshake (before a predominantly unfamiliar audience of somnolent spectators), and a token glass of Cava.

However, many institutions across the UK have traditionally asked friends and families to pay for seats at graduation ceremonies. Moreover, as recently reported in The Telegraph, some universities in Britain are now charging students to attend their own graduation ceremonies. At University College London (UCL), students are hit with a £15 fee, while guest tickets cost £25. Sheffield Hallam also charges students £15 to attend their own graduation, while guest tickets and attendance at the reception following the ceremony also cost extra.

Helier Ying-wah Cheung, a student from Hong Kong, graduated from UCL with a degree in English literature last year, but did not attend the graduation ceremony: “I didn’t attend my ceremony because I didn’t feel happy paying £50 – that’s £15 ticket plus £35 to hire the gown – for my graduation after I’d already paid over £21,000 in tuition fees.” Writing on the student union website, another student said: “UCL is using student graduations as a money-making opportunity. In total, including gown hire, [my graduation] will set my family back £151 – for 30 seconds of seeing me collect my certificate.”

Some of the most expensive fees are at Irish and Scottish universities. At Queen’s University, Belfast, students have to pay £25 to graduate in absentia or £50, including robe hire, to attend the ceremony. Edinburgh, Ulster, Heriot Watt and Robert Gorden universities in Scotland charge students £40 to register for a graduation ceremony. Arguably these higher fees can be justified given the absence of top-up-fees at Scottish universities.

Internet campaigns have recently been launched by students opposing the fees, accusing universities of turning graduations into money-spinning exercises. Last year, students at UCL created a Facebook group “Graduation Ceremony prices are a disgrace,” in which they urged their union to investigate what the £25 price of a ticket was based on.

In a statement made by The University of Sussex, it is clarified that: “Sussex makes no financial profit from graduation ceremonies – the fees paid for guest tickets are used towards paying for the event itself. In fact, the ceremonies are heavily subsidised by the University.” The statement goes on to explain that charges are reviewed annually and that the University receives very few complaints.

In the meantime, Clarke is still in talks with some of her colleagues at Sussex in the hope of hosting an alternative celebration. In a desperate attempt to avoid a “dull and empty graduation experience,” she proposes a more personal ceremony on a much smaller scale. “Ideally,” she explains, “this ceremony would be held on campus and involve the people who actually taught and know us.”

Graduation is an important event for Universities, graduates and their friends and families. It is unfortunate, yet perhaps inevitable, that not everyone’s high expectations of such an event can be met. Nevertheless, approximately 2000 Sussex students (out of a possible 2500) attend the summer graduation ceremony each year, which suggests that the majority of us are not too disgruntled.

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