Fees, Funding and Freshers’ Fun

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Lord Browne’s 2010 report on Higher Education reform heralded the beginning of a new era in university education and experience. As I am sure all but cave-dwelling misanthropes are now aware, with the recommendations in this review came the lifting of a tuition fee cap that saw most institutions almost treble their yearly course fees – done, as many justified, to negate the reduction in funding provided to institutions as part of George Osborne’s desperate frugality.

Whilst affording universities the ability to raise their tuition fees, Lord Browne also attached a caveat: universities must ensure to maintain their standard of academic provision whilst their students’ unions maintained or enhanced the student experience. The objective was to increase the competitive nature of Higher Education institutions, so that prospective students could make informed choices based on a variety of criteria – from academic prestige to social opportunities and welfare provision – that, cumulatively, would present them with an idea of the ‘value for money’ provided by each university.

Commentators, such as the Guardian newspaper, are already dichotomising the issue as ‘revolution or evolution’ in the nature of university life. So, what is the situation at Lancaster?

Irrespective of the 9K-gremlin – which could well become an easily-targeted scapegoat for all university woes over the next few years – the university has a duty to its population to retain its academic prestige and continuously work towards improving the student experience. In light of this fact, SCAN Investigations is undertaking a long-term evaluation of how students perceive their experience of Lancaster across a variety of areas, including academic assessment and feedback, college life and accommodation, financial management and ‘hidden’ course costs, and (dare we utter the phrase) the aforementioned tuition-fee increase.

The support pledged by Lancaster in light of its decision on fees, along with the benefits cited by the then-Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings, could allay many fears over the outlook for incoming undergraduates. Wellings justified the fee decision last year by arguing that ‘[t]his will allow Lancaster to build on its track record of success in attracting well qualified students from a variety of different backgrounds and to invest further in the student experience.’ Wellings pledged a sum of £3.9m spent by the University on widening participation through scholarships and bursaries to incoming undergraduates.

We are looking to liaise with a group of first-year students (two or three per faculty) at regular intervals throughout the year in order to ascertain how their perceptions of Higher Education have altered, if at all, as their courses have progressed.

A particular area of concern is whether students are in fact ambivalent towards the issue of the increased tuition fees. It has been posited that the sheer magnitude at which projected student debt now stands has meant that it has ceased to retain any sense of realism in the everyday lives of those embarking upon their studies in 2012. We want to gauge student opinion: is the University providing value for money, and are its academic and financial prerequisites for entry appropriate?

You can also discuss your concerns comment on issues raised by LUSU via its Your Voice service (found at http://yourvoice.lusu.co.uk).

If you would like to participate in the student focus group then please contact scan.investigations@lusu.co.uk.

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