Where are your tuition fees going?
A Soton Tab investigation into the University’s financial policy found they made a whopping £15.4m surplus for the 2013/14 financial year- despite many students struggling to make ends meet.
Since the £9000 tuition fee came in, the University has been dependent on fee income to operate; while the university is taking in a large amount of tuition fees as a surplus (up to around £600 per student), they already have at least £113m in reserve.
The 2011/12 financial statement said “the new fee regime should, assuming no change in student numbers, be broadly financially neutral for the University”- yet student numbers have actually increased since then.
As the University increased its targeted surplus from 2% from 5% and continues to expand student intake- is enough being done to help those of us already enrolled?
For example, the University unceremoniously axed their most visible policy on eliminating course costs last year.
The ‘Student Entitlement’ system, which gave every student at the University £300 credit to spend on campus was discontinued last year after being deemed “extremely generous” in their 2014 OFFA report.
The University failed to remove it from all promotional materials, leading to many incoming students believing they’d be receiving the credit, only to be faced with having to pay the full cost of their course themselves.
Amy, a second year English student, said “One of the reasons Southampton attracted me to study English was the £300 they used to give students to buy books.”
Becky, a second year History student, said she’d shelled out almost £200 on books in her first year, and could only get by “because she got a grant”.
While there is clearly help in place for students from poorer backgrounds, it’s clear that students who don’t qualify for maintenance grants or bursaries suffer.
A spokesman for the University told us “The University does invest a lot of time, effort and money into supporting students but we can only help students if they come forward”.
“The University is here to listen and help”.
William, an English student on a year abroad said, “I’ve just felt this sting of buying my books without entitlement this year, £300 so far for first term.”
He, like most students we spoke to, said the cost of the tuition fees and course costs would be worth it as long as they get their degree at the end.
This goes along with the Minister for Education’s claim last week that unis care more about research than teaching, claiming staff are willing to “award you the degree as the hoped-for job ticket in return for compliance with minimal academic requirements and due receipt of fees”.
He added that equally, “[Students] don’t want to do coursework that would distract [them] from partying.”
The lack of any significant criticism towards the reduction in accessibility funds for the majority of students suggests many really are willing to accept any treatment in exchange for their degrees.
For example, some Humanities students have been forced to hold lectures in the Union’s Cinema due to a lack of teaching space, described as “awkward” and “uncomfortable”, while others said “as long as we had a space to learn it was fine.”
Despite this clear issue with campus space, the University has continued to focus its investment on Halls buildings, including a £20m development near Glen Eyre, and the £23.5m City Gateway Halls.
Clearly, with the University system’s new dependence on tuition fees, our uni is trying to increase revenue streams by increasing its capacity- and successfully, as shown by this year’s record intake of 6000.
However, if they cannot provide enough for-purpose teaching space to satisfy current student numbers, why are they expanding so rapidly? This is on top of the infamous lack of social space on campus, on which no real development has been made as the Union attempts to make the most of its incredibly limited space.
The University’s spokesman said “Despite our steady growth in student numbers, there is also a rise in the costs of providing systems, buildings, infrastructure and people,”
“Over recent years, the costs have increased to the point where our surplus has not been as great as we would have liked in order to provide sufficient funds for added investment in the University.”
“We seek to find the right balance of income and costs, [but] we’re also working hard to maintain the high quality of experience required of our students and staff.”
The University’s financial review for 2013-14 suggests “expenditure was contained to a relatively modest level”, while growth in income was driven primarily by an “increase in student fee income”.
By expanding their surpluses while making courses less affordable to the average student, the Uni is seemingly prioritising its future economic prosperity over the needs of its current students as a policy.
The incoming Vice-Chancellor, Sir Christopher Snowden, has said in the past that “Universities have to be businesslike to succeed, securing income from a wide range of sources on a competitive basis.”
Since the tuition fee increase, students with low contact hours are starting to feel like they aren’t getting value from their tuition fees. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told Vice this year that the HEPI has found students “increasingly think they’re not getting good value for money.”
“There’s not a lot of evidence they’re doing much about that in terms of protesting or demanding things from their universities.”
All of this points back to the Minister for Education’s comment; increasingly, universities just want funding for research, and students just want their degree- and they’re willing to accept any treatment to get it.