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Tuition fees review should be undertaken with students’ interests in mind, chiefs say

Professor John Last from Norwich Universtity of the Arts/NUA.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Professor John Last from Norwich Universtity of the Arts/NUA. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

University chiefs in Norwich say a review into tuition fees must be undertaken with students’ interests at the forefront.

Vice Chancellor of the UEA David Richardson. Picture: UEAVice Chancellor of the UEA David Richardson. Picture: UEA

Prime minister Theresa May announced the review into post-18 education on Monday, saying aspects of the system were now “a cause for serious concern”.

She said the “competitive market” which the increase in tuition fees up to £9,250 was designed to inspire had failed, with the majority of universities charging the top price regardless of “quality or cost of course”.

While tuition fees will not be cut entirely, the year-long review will consider variable fees - which could be set on the cost of putting a course on, or earning potential of graduates.

It has seen speculation that arts courses in particular could have fees cut, with sciences remaining more costly.

The University of East Anglia. Picture: UEAThe University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA

But professor John Last, vice-chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts (NUA), said there had been “misconceptions and lazy assumptions” over the cost of arts courses, particularly compared to classroom-based options.

“Take a look at our film and fashion studios and specialist workshops and you’ll see significant investment in technology and facilities to help students prepare for careers in the creative industries,” he said.

Professor Last, who said the creative industries generate £91bn for the UK economy, urged that any changes to higher education be taken with “great care” to avoid discouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds from applying.

According to their websites, both NUA and the University of East Anglia (UEA) charge £9,250, the maximum, for their undergraduate degrees.

Visual effects students at Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Owen RichardsVisual effects students at Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Owen Richards

UEA’s vice-chancellor professor David Richardson said his focus would be to ensure any future proposals offered a “sensible and fair funding solution” which supported students.“Personally I believe that the balance of funding between state and student needs to be reviewed and I would support the return to maintenance grants for students,” he said.

“The review will enable UEA to highlight the work we are already doing with further education, businesses and other education providers to ensure that our courses support students to contribute to society and the wider economy.”

Professor Last said he too would welcome the return of maintenance grants for students, which were scrapped in 2016.

Analysis

It’s easy to understand the logic behind the prime minister’s overhaul.

The books which make up an English literature degree are much cheaper than the cutting-edge technology of many in the sciences. A lawyer will earn considerably more than a teacher, or artist.

But it’s logic which has its flaws.

Variable fees, firstly, do not do much to address social mobility.

Students being led to pick a course on cost is the opposite of widening participation.

With science and engineering skills in demand, it also does little to address the future job market.

Equally, while a degree might cost less to teach than another across the board, graduates on the same course at different universities are likely to have huge disparities in salary. Also - what about courses which produce high earners but are cheap to run?

There’s logic - but it’s misguided.

Case study

Student Sophie Long, from Attleborough, started an arts and festival management course in London in 2014, paying £9,250 a year.

But she said, with just six hours contact time a week, it felt like a “waste of money”

“Had the course been worth doing I would have stayed on, but I felt that no-one cared about it, and it just didn’t seem worth it,” she said. “I didn’t want to get myself in debt for that.”

Now studying biological sciences at UEA, she said the course is much more full-on, with 25 hours contact time a week.

“In that, there’s five, six hours of laboratory based work, hands-on stuff where we’re really learning,” she said. “I’d learnt more in the first week than I had during the previous course.”

What do Norwich students think?

• Psychology student Sam Spaul, 27, said: “I don’t think different degrees should cost more money, I personally feel happy to pay the £9,000. If it’s something that you want to do that much then money shouldn’t be an object.”

• Fellow psychology student Joe O’Kelly, 20, said: “I don’t think courses should cost different amounts because it is a disincentive for people to pursue certain paths, I think that punishes people pursuing the most rewarding paths for them.”

• Nikolai Kovzel, who studies molecular biology and is 20, said: “Ideally things would be equal but I do realise different courses need different funding. My course is related to laboratory work, and it uses a lot of expensive instruments and obviously it must be much more expensive than some business teaching things.”

• Lucy Riseborough, a 21-year-old international development student, said: “I think they should be all the same. It doesn’t really help social mobility for tuition fees to be less for certain subjects. I applied for environmental science as well and if development cost less it would have undoubtedly swayed my mind.”

• Adam Herron, who is 22 and from Newcastle, is studying a masters in film studies. He said: “It’s not a good idea in my opinion. It’s actually just a way of shimmying around the fact that the fees were implemented in the first place.

“I don’t believe that it will happen. I don’t have the trust in the government that they will make that work because as students we have been led astray before.”

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