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The wait is over. The debate, if there ever really was one, has been settled. Lancaster University is a £9,000 a year institution. There was never really much doubt.
Where the debate remains is on whether Lancaster really is a £9,000 a year institution. It isn’t, but then neither are most of the other universities who have said they will be charging that amount. Lancaster is probably in a better position than most though to justify the price tag. It’s a far cry from being perfect, but the fact that it is, relatively speaking, so far behind the crowd in delivering the experience students expect, means it is better placed to wipe the slate clean and begin afresh. Lancaster is perfectly placed to reinvent itself without having to be weighed down by the decisions of the past. It can start to focus now on honing the very best student experience for those starting in October 2012.
For those students, the politics of who owns the college bars will be irrelevant. What they will care about is having the choice of entertaining, welcoming and most-importantly student friendly bars to go and hang out in. The students of the future won’t stand to see some faculties favoured over others, especially if their faculty is the one playing Cinderella to its siblings’ flashy lecture theatres and cafes. The government’s cuts to teaching will not make this an easy balance, but if the higher fees are there to offset these cuts students will expect to see value for their money regardless of what they are studying.
They’ll also expect to see value for money from their rent. Even the students from the Cinderella faculty will find their rent and fees a hard pill to swallow if the cleaners included in that price don’t clean. This same generation, raised on netbooks and smart phones, will not expect to be living in dorms where they confined to the length of their ethernet cable. A poor 3G signal on campus will not suffice when they are used to instant internet access wherever they are.
More than anything, students won’t stand to hear that friends are having a better time than them at other universities. The new sports centre will go some way to remedying this, but the issue extends further than just where students can go to keep fit. Lancaster as a town doesn’t boast much entertainment for the under-25 crowd, and what there is only exists because of the two universities located in the city. It’s on campus that students need to feel enlivened, excited and enthusiastic. Societies need space, sports clubs need time and the Students’ Union needs to be the cool place students want to be, not a collection of offices without windows. Consumers compare, and if students at Lancaster feel like their friends elsewhere are having more fun then them they’re going to wonder where their money is going. No one wants all work and no play for £9,000 a year.
Lancaster is in a strong position to shake off its boarding house on a hill reputation and make itself into a premium campus university. £9,000 is still too much for any education, but if students have to pay it, it might as well be worth the price tag.