Although difficult to consider hidden, the cost of books is arguably the most prevalent beyond tuition and accommodation.
Many students do not initially realise how much they have to spend on reading. Many students also feel that a lack of access to library books forces students to buy books themselves.
27% of respondents spent more than £150 per year on books. One Biomedical Science student said: “I have spent upwards of £600 throughout the three years, despite being told I would not need any extra. The selection of biology books in the library is totally inadequate so we were left with no choice but to buy.”
Other students complained that the library does not have enough copies of core books, although staff stress that every possible effort is made to make enough resources available. On top of this, required texts are often authored by Lancaster academics.
“Many of the recommended texts are compiled [or] written by lecturers who would rather you paid for a printed text as opposed to charging a third of the price for a photocopied compilation,” complained a Finance and Economics student.
Most departments do try to encourage students to avoid unnecessary spending. Law Librarian Lorna Pimperton told SCAN that the department “may caution students against spending money when they can obtain resources through the library or online.”
39% of students surveyed reported that the most expensive book for their course costs up to £50. In some cases cheaper copies can be found second-hand, but this offers no guarantee of quality.
Students also commented on buying books they rarely use. Part One Economics requires a £45 textbook only used for half of the course. “It was very frustrating to be told by lecturers that they didn’t like that book, and by others that it was the best book ever,” said Economics student James Birtles.
Course costs do not end at reading lists. For more practical subjects students have to purchase safety which can amount to around £60.
Many students used the SCAN survey to voice anger at college and LUSU membership fees.
All new students must pay the £30 college membership fee, which mostly covers administrative costs. Many do not find out about college membership fees until being charged for them. Students are also encouraged to purchase the Purple card for £12 a year (or £30 for three years), enabling them to join LUSU societies. Following this there is a sign up fee for societies which can range from as little as £2 up to £45 for more practical clubs, covering hiring out practical space, transport and entrance into competitions. Many clubs also require gym membership of £26 and payment for kit. There is also socialising to consider, which whilst being optional is an integral part of society membership.
Although the Purple card is not compulsory, without it students cannot join societies or benefit from offers. It is also the primary piece of student identification at Lancaster. “The Purple card is basically a stealth tax,” said postgraduate Tony Chung. “If we don’t have one, we basically are not a member of the Union.”
Lancaster has one of the most active students’ unions in the UK but although many students value this, they are not happy having to pay large amounts of money to benefit fully.
Food and essentials
When buying food and other essential items, Lancaster has a range of options. The on-campus Spar offers convenience but limited choice and relatively high prices, although it did top SCAN’s survey as the place where students are most likely to buy food on campus. Sainsbury’s in Lancaster means campus residents have to add the cost of a bus ticket or taxi to their shopping bill. Consequently many use online shopping and delivery services. However, these services include charges of up to £6 for delivery, with ASDA requiring a minimum spend of £25.
For grocery shopping there is no perfect option, which can easily make this a bigger-than-necessary hidden cost.
35% of respondents say that they often buy food on campus, while a further 44% do so more occasionally. Compared to grocery shopping this represents a less significant hidden cost, because eating on campus is not such a necessity.
Printing charges are increasingly a point of contention, especially since prices increased at the beginning of August.
A single side of black-and-white printing has risen in price from 5p to 5.5p, whilst a single side of colour has risen by 50%, from 14p to 21p. Even before these changes, 72% of respondents to the SCAN survey thought printing charges were too expensive.
First and second year students spend on average £20 a year on printing and third year students spend £26.50, according to Information Systems Services (ISS) figures. One History student reports that “for all of my courses most of the required readings are online. I know I have spent well over £200 so far on printing.”
Recent increases have put printing charges into the spotlight, but it is the simple fact of paying for essential printing which angers students, many of whom feel that printing coursework should be subsidised more, or covered by tuition fees.
As a campus university, Lancaster gives many of its students the advantage of having everything they need within easy walking distance. This significantly reduces the need for bus travel compared to city-centre universities, where more students face a daily commute on buses.
Stagecoach’s ‘Unirider’ ticket is seen as the best option for those off-campus, and this year costs £205 for three terms. Stagecoach claim it allows daily travel for just ninety-four pence. As one student notes: “it is worth it, but [it is] a lot of money in one go.”
Nevertheless, those paying daily for travel face fast-accumulating costs; last year a one-way from campus into Lancaster cost £1.45, and a return £2.15. New charges from August 29 mean a single now costs £1.50 and a return £2.20. For a student making on average just two return trips a week, this represents a cost of £44 a term.
Parking on campus has long been a controversial issue. Of 152 students surveyed, only 11% have a car on campus, but to this small but significant minority parking charges are hugely frustrating.
The difficulty of obtaining a student parking permit has been widely publicised, with candidates having to meet stringent stipulations to do so.
Problems will be exacerbated in the new academic year following a huge rise in the cost of permits; this has more than doubled from £52 to £115.