University: Is it all worth it?

“Hands off my Education!” was one. “F**k fees” was another (yes it was written with asterisks – like a child). All signs at the Demo 2010 in which thousands of students, and a couple Socialist douche-hats, marched through London to protest the fees rising. Many shouted “Where’s my value for money?” and “Bollocks to Clegg” and the first statement got me thinking (the second is just fine). Where is the value for money in going to university?

Let’s take my university (Brunel) as an example. You pay near-as-dammit £3000 a year. And with fees set to rise to a nose-shattering £9,000 next year are you getting that value for money that we all crave in this consumer world we live in? Firstly let’s look at the cash coming in: Brunel takes in £64m a year in tuition fees. It then gets a further £57.5m in Grants and then an extra £46.7m in Research returns and Catering/Residences/etc. So for those counting along that’s £169.5m in the bank – all to spend on you, the people.

So where does it all go? Like most places 50% of it is taken by staffing wages and pensions and the like. 54% to be precise, that’s £90.9m. And in fairness, £2.71m is gobbled up by 21 of the higher paid staff, including the Vice Chancellor. So the remaining £88m makes the average staff salary around £35k.

After Staffing comes the mysterious ‘Other’ column. This takes up most of the remaining cash with £55.8m spent on ‘other’. But what is ‘other’? Usually most people use ‘other’ like they use ‘misc’ meaning ‘I-forgot-what-I-spent-this-on’. Thankfully the Uni accounts are better than mine…

£15m on academic departments (the non-staff costs of the facilities to be taught in); £7m on services (more on this in a second); £3m on research contracts (matched by income); £8m on Residences costs and costs of catering supplies; £12m on premises maintenance (what you see before you); £8m on admin (pens, papers, computers, etc) and £2m of the other is on…other. Go figure.

So that’s £10,774 spent per student. Still don’t feel you get that value? Especially if you are an Arts student? Well, let’s look at services.

This £7m includes the Library and its 24-hour capabilities. It also includes the 622 computers available in the Library, John Crank and Halsbury – many of which are 24 hour – as well as the computers in Towers A and C for the engineering students and the Mac lab in Tower C for the designers. It also provides for the 4 counsellors who are free of charge and the 5 chaplains of many faiths for whatever floats your religious boat. Then there is the mighty Student’s Union which is, frankly, a steal at £964k last year. These guys provide all the Sports and Societies, the ARC, Student Media, RAG and Locos and Academy. Finally the Brunel Volunteers and the Placement and Careers Centre (PCC).

That’s quite a bit for only £7m. And as a guide – to run a Job Centre in Deptford High Street (nearest thing to the PCC) costs £2.2m a year. So are you getting value for money from your University? No. Can you get value for money from your university? Yes. If you use the Library, if you use the bars, if you use the 24-hour Computer facilities. Your contact time with your lecturer is not the only facet to your life at this Uni. And it won’t bring you fiscal happiness. You (and those students after you) have to get your money’s worth out of the Uni!

And when the fees rise and the number of students drop and the funding cuts come in, then the universities will have to drop services. Universities up and down the land will lose computers; will lose staff; will lose libraries and will lose student’s unions. And who will be to blame? Who wasn’t there telling the politicians what we wanted in a coherent and calm voice? Who has spent the last 10 years bickering amongst themselves, trying to brown-nose the politicians to get a job? Who has seen fees double THEN triple during my time at university? The NUS. The NUS has failed on all accounts to protect you and your rights. And all to the tune of £50k per year per institution.

So when they protest again and you think of writing “Oi! Uni! Where’s my value for money?” maybe you should write “Oi! NUS! Where’s my value for money?” instead. Or just vote ‘No’ to the NUS in the campus-wide Referendum next year.

All figures taken from the University’s accounts dated 2009-10, approved by Council


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