Analysis: Information is key when convicing students of value

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Last summer we investigated the hidden costs of university and found that two of the most prominent were the costs of the college membership fee and the Purple card. So we investigated further.

Talking about these fees together is sensible for two reasons: firstly, they are both seen as membership fees (even though it’s not a requirement to have a Purple card to be a member of LUSU) and secondly, they both represent a cost to the student of £30 over three years. Although this isn’t a huge amount in the long run, as a one-off payment at the start of your academic career, paying both of them together, it’s a lot.

The real problem we’ve found, especially with the college membership fee, is that too many people just don’t know what they’re being made to pay for, so feel they’re getting no value for money out of it. We found unearthing any sort of specific details about where the college fee goes incredibly difficult. Most college websites are extremely unhelpful, and it seems students rarely get any better explanation than a whimsical allusion to administration and facilities.

It was only after we began our enquiries that Grizedale’s College Administrator sent a lengthy email to students giving a breakdown of the benefits. It’s no wonder 50% of our survey respondents rated the information given about the fee one out of 10, and how can it be a surprise that value for money ratings are just as low? As one respondent remarked: “I’d need to know what it is spent on in the first place to comment.”

The survey garnered quite a few sarcastic suggestions as to where the College membership fee might be spent, such as “champagne for the Dean” or – a personal favourite – on the giant animatronic griffin which Cartmel College is apparently getting. Underlying these responses is a sense of frustration from students who pay the fee without being given a choice and without being told what it’s for. It’s the lack of information, not the purpose of the expenditure, that’s the problem.

The Purple card, meanwhile, got a far more popular response; over half of the 123 people surveyed gave it a value for money rating of seven or more out of 10. Furthermore, people were able to list the benefits they gained from having a Purple card, and these matched the purposes for which it is intended.

It says a lot about our consumerist society that the biggest single benefits we take from it are discounts, but at least students feel they’re getting something for their money.

Despite a few criticisms that “all” it gives are a few discounts and entry to the Sugarhouse, the Purple card is a good illustration of the fact that if something is promoted well enough and people know what it’s for it will be successful. The statistics don’t lie; nearly 90% of students wouldn’t have a Purple card if they were getting nothing out of it, and our survey suggests that 80% of students feel they are getting a lot of use out of it.

It’s awareness that needs to be improved if people aren’t going to resent the college membership fees. It should be up to the University and the colleges to work together to show students what their money is being spent on, and tailor this spending to create the best possible student experience.

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