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With the increase of university fees brought by the Cameron and his Conservative cronies, more students are questioning whether it is worth investing £9,000 a year (£27,000 in course fees alone, ouch), in their future. However, it’s not just students paying the higher fees that find themselves dissatisfied with the education offered by their universities. The BBC states that 17,000 students were polled, and found that 29% of students feel their courses are not good value for money, with some students getting “twice as much [contact time] as those doing the same subject elsewhere”. Further to this, students feel they are working harder than in previous years due to all the private study they are expected to undertake, and that those of us who have less contact time with tutors are three times more likely to say we don’t think we’re getting our money’s worth.
I’m inclined to agree with this view, as a History undergraduate there are certainly times where I feel for the money I’m spending on my degree I’m not receiving nearly enough support or teaching time. Whilst it seems crude to judge your education on the amount you’re paying for it, I seem to have significantly less contact time than say, those studying maths or medicine. Although at times I think ‘this is great, I get four lie-ins a week’; occasionally it makes me think ‘what exactly am I paying for?’ – particularly when tutors take an excruciating amount of time to reply to an email or provide absolutely useless feedback on one of my coursework essays. I became especially frustrated during my first year. Whilst I had a lot of laughs and a great time, Lancaster expects its students to take two minor subjects alongside the degree they signed up for. In theory this seems like a good idea, but actually, the work load and my irritation at having to study things I wasn’t all that interested in, only for all that time and energy to count for nothing in the grand scheme of my university life. I understand that first year is the time to settle into university life and learn what is expected of you, but it actually felt like a bit of a waste of time and definitely a waste of £3,000 in fees.
The BBC quotes Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, who states that “it is misleading to make a crude assumption that time spent in lectures and seminars can be equated with university course quality” – but actually, as a student, I do believe that time spent in lectures and seminars is important and as I have little time scheduled for them, I feel a somewhat dissatisfied. So actually Dandridge, you’re wrong. Rachel Wenstone of the NUS also rightly pointed out that the government increase of fees is making students think like consumers; after all we are paying a lot of money for a service, surely we have a right to be able to “hold [our] institution” to account if we are dissatisfied, the same way that if you spent a lot of money on a product you wouldn’t have second thoughts about returning it if it was not up to standard. We obviously cannot ‘return’ knowledge a university has imparted if we feel it isn’t worth the money, but there should be more accessible ways for students to complain if they are unhappy, rather than having to rely on surveys and polls to get our point across.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Whilst I feel that teaching time may fall short in terms of value for money, having few contact hours does leave me lots of time to pursue extracurricular activities (obviously); and it seems I spend a lot of time doing things for SCAN or Bailrigg than I spend working on my degree. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Lancaster is jam-packed with societies and opportunities that, if you have the time to participate in, can only enrich your CV and provides you with a wealth of experience that sitting in a lecture theatre wouldn’t give you. It also might help you figure out what on earth you want to do with your life, and that makes it all worth it.