Tuition fees by the hour?

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Since the OECD report on education was published, the debate over university tuition fees has been reignited. The report estimated that 45% of student loans will never be paid back, giving an expected loss for the government of £6.75 billion. These figures exemplify the issues with the university fee system. The report has resulted in the Labour Party reiterating their intention to scrap university tuition fees, but could a smaller step in the right direction be taken if tuition fees varied dependent on contact hours? Cardiff University students, Molly Ambler and Emily Hatter debated reasons for and against varied tuition fees.

For: By Molly Ambler

The amount students pay for their degree is rising and with some students receiving few contact hours for their fees, it only seems reasonable that those with fewer hours in university as well as fewer hours with tutors pay a lesser sum of money.

As a third year history student, I have four hours a week in university, including seminars, but I am still paying the same for my degree as those who are receiving substantially more contact hours than myself. With much of my degree coming down to independent study, I feel as though the majority of my money is being spent on being able to borrow books from the library as I’m teaching myself the majority of the content that is used in my assignments.

When applying for university and taking on the burden of the substantial debt that I’ll be repaying for years to come, I was unaware of the amount of hours I would be in contact with university staff. In my first year I had triple the amount of hours that I now have, with 12 hours a week in lectures and seminars. In second year, it halved to six hours a week and now I am on an insignificant four hours a week. Arguably, tuition fees could be paid proportionately to the hours per year and not necessarily to the degree as a whole.

I am doing much of my degree in the solitude of my bedroom, trawling through book after book, making notes and writing essays. My four hours of contact time a week should not be worth the same amount of money as those who attend university 9 AM to 5 PM. Tuition fees should be proportionate to the amount of time spent in lectures and seminars, which in my case is very little time.

Comparing university tuition fees (Source: Emma Videan)

Against: By Emily Hatter

Okay so your friends are in 9-5 every day and if you, like me, have fewer hours. But should I pay less? No, regardless of how many contact hours you have within your degree, the same fees need to be paid. Lecturers need a wage, resources need to be bought, libraries need to stay running, library staff… I could go on.

According to Business Insider, if we compare the British higher education system to that of the US, we’re saving £25,000 a year in annual tuition fees on average. On this alone we’re paying significantly less than our American counterparts. Ultimately tuition fees don’t just cover that. They give all students access to other support and services including sports, arts, student services (including counselling and volunteering abroad) and the buildings all of this is housed in.

Similar to charities, universities don’t make a profit and use any excess to reinvest into new buildings and facilities – in Cardiff we can look at the new JOMEC building, and the construction of the Centre for Student Life. In order to provide the variety of courses on offer, they need to receive continuous funding and without that, degrees would cease to exist. With the array of choices available at university and the availability of support and facilities, £9,000 a year is great value, irrespective of how many contact hours you have. You could pick a degree with hours if you want to get ‘better value for money’. To say tuition fees are just for teaching just pleads ignorance, they cover much more than that.

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