September 2013 saw the launch of Hidden Course Costs campaign, designed to bring a fairer deal to the pockets of students. Every year students have to pay unexpected and unreasonable additional costs relating to their course and accommodation. Belinda George.
The campaign, run by UWE Student Union’s President Charlie Roper aimed to gather evidence of these costs and push for change. By producing a giant piggy bank and an online ‘costs calculator’ where students could enter their extra spends, he produced a ‘receipt’ breakdown displaying evidence of extortionate hidden costs.
Among the most common expenditures were textbooks, uniforms and equipment, and printing materials. Bower Ashton Art students also had a tough time of it- landing out over £900 in some cases for required artist materials. Some of the most extortionate payouts included £1000 for a laptop, £500 for camera equipment and £400 for placement accommodation.
Textbooks came top of the list for most common expenditures. Chris*, a first year law student explained that he purchased 5 text books from the recommended list, for about £30-40 each. And Chris* is not alone.
Another unexpected cost for students living on campus is the £2 laundrette charge, which is unwelcome when many students are forced to spend just £10 per week on food. A few students when asked said they spend on average £4-6 per week on clothes washing due to participation in sport and fitness activities.
Top of the list for total expense was uniforms, equipment and materials. Geography students were told to buy ‘A waterproof coat, waterproof trousers and walking boots’ for their first term assessed field trip to Dartmoor, as without these they would ‘not be allowed to attend one of the tasks’. Students were told that adequate boots could be purchased for ‘only £30-£40’. The total cost equated to around £100 for most students.
After 2012 saw the rise in course fees from just over £3000 per year to £9000 per year, UWE made it policy to include the cost of all compulsory field trips within course fees. However, some students still have to pay for their own flights, and feel pressured into attending non-compulsory trips as it ‘will benefit their degree’.
The effects of these additional costs put students under financial pressure, leading to a range of issues from having to work more hours which sacrifices study time to increasing debt and worst case, leaving university because it is not financially viable.
Movement towards a fairer deal for students is something Charlie is passionate to achieve. Charlie stated: ‘I have been working hard in partnership with departments and authorities at UWE and have called for UWE to commit to full transparency of additional course costs prior to application on all courses, and to absorb essential costs within the £9k tuition fee’.
As a result of the feedback and pressure from the Hidden Costs Campaign, Charlie Roper is pleased to announce that changes have been achieved:
All undergraduate students will receive £15.00 printing credit per year from September 2014
Every undergraduate student at Bower Ashton campus will receive £75.00 credit for materials per year from September 2014
Discussions are still ongoing as to how UWE will resource the further proposed suggestions.
The process in which your feedback was used can be seen at www.uwesu.org/hiddencosts. Co-authored papers, representation in meetings and behind the scenes lobbying all were a part of putting more money back into your pockets.
UWE SU is here to listen.