Jack Corban and Rothery Sullivan discuss the idea that the University should be charging less for online teaching.
We’re paying £9k a year for this?
Universities have cost money ever since 1998, subsequently going up in price in 2004 before seeing their most controversial rise in 2010. This of course does not apply to Scottish undergraduates, but as students from other UK countries or further afield: the amount of money we pay for university is ridiculous. I don’t agree with the practice, however, that isn’t what this article is about. What I want to argue is that, given the current circumstances, we are due a refund from the University.
The reason I believe this is plain and simple: for better or for worse, universities have become businesses rather than educational boards. We pay ridiculous amounts of money for an already very limited amount of teaching; if you’ve reached honours on an arts course, you’ll be lucky to have more than 6 contact hours a week, for a cost of £9,250 a year. We aren’t getting our money’s worth already. Yet, regardless of if I believe in tuition fees or not, I think the current tuition fees for this year should be substantially reduced. I could see an argument to be made that online teaching is just as good as in-person teaching, but from my own course, I can confirm that the move online has definitely affected the number of hours I’m getting: my seminars didn’t start until week five, and even now they’re every fortnight. And if online teaching is really just as good as in-person teaching, why has it taken this long, and a pandemic, for lecture recordings to become commonplace for people with health issues, both mental and physical?
We are plainly not getting what we expect from a Russell Group university education. Given the disruption caused by strikes over the past two years and now Covid-19 forcing things online, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to turn around to what is essentially a business and tell them outright that we feel we’re not getting what was promised - or what we’re paying for. I don’t want universities to be treated like businesses, but this is, unfortunately, the world we live in, and the fact that we’re still expected to bury ourselves under the deepest piles of debt for this is disgusting. It almost feels like a scam; the University isn’t really selling us an education, it’s selling us a degree with a prestigious “University of Glasgow” stamp on it. It’s as though they don’t see the need to reduce fees or refund us because they don’t see themselves as an educational institution at all - they see themselves as a business with the sole purpose of making money.
This is all by no means targeting the lecturers; I am aware that this is a really difficult time for all of us, and trying to provide a university education from home isn’t exactly easy. But it is on the universities, and to a further extent, the UK government, for turning educational institutions into businesses back in 1998, and then making them damn more expensive ones in 2010. We’re still getting a version of the university treatment, I suppose, so a full refund isn’t exactly in order in my opinion - but a partial one definitely is. And much like I hope that online lecture recordings stick around when the University eventually returns to in-person teaching, I hope a lowered price will as well.
We don’t deserve a tuition fee refund just because uni is online
Requesting a lower tuition fee from the University due to online classes is honestly ridiculous. I would love to see tuition fees lowered as much as the next person, being an international student and all; no student wants to leave university with a large amount of student debt. However, requesting to lower the tuition fees on the grounds of classes being held online is one that isn’t well thought out or fair to the University.
Many people who argue for lower tuition costs claim that they aren’t receiving the same level of education that they had paid for in the past because courses are now taught online. However, this simply isn’t true: any student who is receiving less of an education right now is doing so because they are not taking advantage of all the resources being made available to them. We are still receiving the same education in terms of the number of lectures, seminars, tutorials, assignments, class hours, office hours, and learning material, if not even more so — many students are even complaining that their online lectures are longer in duration than they would be if they were held in person. While it is true that all students (especially those who are taking subjects with labs) are missing out on the experiences that come from hands-on teaching, the material for learning the information is still provided to them. Moreover, it’s important to note that as a university student you’re not just paying for your education: you are paying for your course credits, you are paying for your degree. A large reason why many people attend university is to obtain a degree that they can later use to get a job, and the value of this degree isn’t being lessened due to Covid-19.
Another major argument for why tuition fees should be lowered is that the maintenance costs of the University have been lowered. However, running costs have not been substantially reduced, at least enough to reduce tuition. If any costs have been lowered it’s the lack of constant maintenance for every building on campus; nevertheless, many buildings such as the library, Reading Room, Fraser Building, and McIntyre Building are still being used and are even requiring further maintenance to keep them safe. The campus grounds also still need to be maintained and emergency responders are still available via the security team on campus. Furthermore, the University has had to implement expenses due to the virus, such as more cleaning services in spaces used, installing one way systems, sanitation supplies in every campus building, and the issuing of free face coverings. After looking into the costs of the University, it cannot be argued that they’re saving a lot of money due to the virus.
Finally, a large portion of tuition pays for staff salaries, and we should all agree that teachers deserve the same - if not higher - wages teaching remotely, as they are putting in as much - if not more - work. In addition to preparing lecture material and giving the lectures themselves, professors need to upload their material, answer more emails than usual due to online complications, and figure out new ways to deliver their material in a comprehensive way. The total income from tuition the University of Glasgow received in 2019 was £228,234 while the staff expenditure alone was £356,253; this shows that the tuition paid by students doesn’t even cover the cost of staff salaries. The rest of the funding for the University comes from grants and investment income (which makes up over 66% of the institution’s total yearly income). To break down where your tuition money goes into percentages, roughly 33% of your tuition fees go towards operating expenses, so with only a microscopic decrease in operating expenses, the percentage drop in your tuition costs would be minimal.
While I do agree that paying tens of thousands of pounds for a university degree seems unfair, it is a reality of the world we live in. When you make the decision to go to university, you are committing to the cost of earning your degree. It’s unreasonable to expect the university to give a tuition cut when they’re still granting you the university education they promised. Paying to attend university is paying for a service, so as long as the university continues to provide students with an education and a degree they should not need to lower their price. We want teachers to continue getting paid what they deserve and we want our university to continue to stay open, so I suggest we stop requesting a tuition cut and rather blame the capitalist system we live in that requires young adults to go into massive amounts of debt before the age of 22.
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