Though the current government seems to lack popularity amongst the studying masses after the decision to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 a year for tuition, the University of the West of England is readying itself for another batch of fresh meat this coming September.
Freshers in the 2012/13 academic year are staring down the barrel of a gun with triple the current amount to cough up, marking the end of the £3000 tuition fee era.
With some reports suggesting that the average student starting at UWE this year could face debts of £53,000, there is one question on many people’s lips: Is it really worth it?
Karl Howard, third year History and Politics student, is preparing for his final examinations and dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on his dissertation.
He believes that his tuition fees are reasonable at the moment, but tripling them cannot be justified, stating that the course was worth the £3000 a year that he will soon have to repay, “but there was a lot that could be done to improve it, such as greater accessibility to journal articles.”
When Karl was asked if he would be willing to pay the higher fees he assured: “Definitely not. If I had to pay that much I would probably do an apprenticeship instead.”
The tuition fees are a key factor for students wishing to study NHS funded courses. Another student, Alice Trenchard, is lucky enough to have her Occupational Therapy course paid for by the National Health Service, but even with such government support, she believes higher tuition fees would have put her off.
“As I have not heard otherwise, I am assuming that the NHS will continue to offer funded courses,” she told WesternEye. “But when the rise in tuition fees was announced, there was uncertainty that they would continue to do so.”
This uncertainty must ring true for many students on part of wholly funded courses and with the price of a ‘normal’ degree tripling, one can only imagine the extent of the costing behind a practical medical qualification such as Alice’s.
UWE Vice Chancellor, Steve West, responded to these fears by stating: “At the moment the Department of Health is continuing to fund NHS commissioned programmes fully. However, the significant changes taking place in health services – with a requirement to save over £20 billion over the next four years – will place huge pressures on the system.”
Alice states: “I am very relieved to have been accepted in the intake before the fees were put up, as nobody can be sure that this will be the case for much longer.
“If it had been that there were no NHS funded courses, the bottom line would be that I would have never come to uni at all. I am a mature student of 26, so going to uni for the first time with the thought of graduating with at least £27,000 of debt was unthinkable, so I would’ve continued to work in my minimum wage job as a care worker.”
As with any commodity, one would expect higher prices to mean better quality. Would a £50,000 Ferrari be better quality than an old banger? One would surely hope so. Is an iPhone better than a £10 Nokia from the 1990’s? Most would agree. Is a £9,000 university course better than a £3,000 course at the same university?
“I would expect to find the quality of teaching and resources provided by universities to be improved,” says Alice Trenchard. “But my current experience has shown that more and more resources are put on-line and it is the students that then have to pay to access and print off material.”
Mr West told WesternEye that the improvement of resources is always a high priority. “We are continually enhancing the resources available to our students and remain absolutely focused on this. The University has been recognised by the National Student Survey as having learning resources consistently in the top quartile of universities. We have the biggest library in the South West and one of the largest numbers of online modules. Our students have access to industry-standard learning facilities including a fully functioning Reuters Trading Room, state of the art simulation suite for health care students, and the largest robotics lab in the country.
“We are currently considering how to further improve access to materials including specifying very clearly what resources students should expect to have – both actual and virtual, what teaching contact and tutorial time they can expect and what professional services they can access.”
Students starting this year should surely expect any ‘extra’ costs to be greatly reduced or even scrapped entirely. With prospective students paying triple what second and third years are paying for tuition, but still have the same added expenditure, could seem highly unreasonable. One must question whether the higher echelons at the University dare to risk a lower income in the name of student access and support.
Higher tuition fees are not the only concern for the forthcoming students. Second year Film student, Will Taylor explained: “What is unfair is that the cost of living has so drastically increased that the tuition fees are the least of a prospective student’s worries. Add to that the £3000 plus [per year] for maintenance and the figure becomes all the more daunting.”
Will also believes teaching may worsen despite the rise in costs of tuition. “Staffing is being cut along with all this,” he told WesternEye. “Less staff; therefore less contact time, yet the cost of each unit hour of contact time has tripled.”
Mr West responded to this comment by saying the staff cuts are in fact beneficial to our students. “We reduced staffing in areas which have contracted over time and reduced our management structures. This has allowed us to invest in front line staff directly serving the needs of students.”
Will also explained how important it is that these tuition fee increases do not deter young people from fulfilling their potential: “Having university as a realistic option meant I could motivate myself and I felt brave enough to chase after what I desired to do, knowing that the risk factor wasn’t as hefty as it is turning out to be now.”
Despite these opinions, many students from across the country will be flocking through the gates of UWE in September, but numbers are expected to be lower. The first year undergraduate intake for 2012/13 is expected to be reduced from approximately 5,800 to 4,800. It is difficult to see how teaching and learning resources will be improved with all of the aforementioned cuts across many boards.
Mr West states: “The rise in fees does not increase the resource available to the University. All we are seeing is a change in the way the University is funded – via the student rather than by Government.
“As a non-profit institution, our number one priority is the educational opportunities we offer our students. Higher education is a life changing and transformational experience. My responsibility is to ensure we focus on delivering the highest quality education and opportunity we can to our students… My intention is that we improve our student experience year on year, regardless of the fee issue.”

Ben Brown