Why is university so expensive?

(116 Posts)
Zazedonia Fri 15-Jan-16 12:59:51

Can anyone explain why university costs so much (and will cost more when the fees cap is removed or loosened)? Many students have very little contact time, and much of it is in big lecture halls. Why does university cost a similar amount to private school, which provides so much more?

OP’s posts: |
disquisitiones Fri 15-Jan-16 13:17:24

Universities are not schools and should not be compared to schools. Universities don't provide less than schools: they provide something very different, higher level specialised education.

Universities cost a lot to run. Think about provision of facilities (particularly in STEM subjects) and provision of libraries (massive costs, relevant to humanities courses). Think about the numbers of support staff needed to run an institution with tens of thousands of students - support staff for academic issues, personal issues, housing, careers etc.

In STEM subjects students typically have 15+ contact hours per week. In addition to contact hours all students have work marked regularly and marking that work takes much longer/is much more specialised than it is for lower level courses. In an essay subject, a staff member might well spend 3+ hours marking a single student's work.

Lots of classes aren't actually large - many third and fourth specialised classes can have less than a dozen students and run at a huge loss, i.e. the amount of fees paid nowhere covers the cost of delivering such classes.

Teaching material at universities is not standardised and is not provided by educational publishers. For me to deliver 24 hours of lectures from scratch takes me a bare minimum of 120 hours of preparation, probably 200 hours. In other words, it can take me 5 weeks to prepare the lectures of one single course, even before I have taught the course, marked assignments, held office hours, marked exams, attended all committee meetings related to the exam etc etc.

Every university sets its own exams. Setting and marking one single exam can take upwards of 100 hours of an academic's time.

£9000 per year doesn't cover the costs: universities need non-EU undergraduates paying higher fees to break even on most courses and many universities throughout the world charge far more.

The main point I would make is that the government chooses not to pay for the facilities/infrastructure of universities from a separate budget, i.e. the vast majority of universities' income is now from student fees. This is arguably wrong, since at least half of universities' function is research. The fraction of facilities/infrastructure/staff time devoted to research should be paid for by the tax payer directly, rather than expecting it to be paid by current students in their future tax.

SeekEveryEveryKnownHidingPlace Fri 15-Jan-16 13:19:07

Everything disquisitones said!

maybebabybee Fri 15-Jan-16 13:19:24

I face palmed at this question, but disquisitiones has it.

disquisitiones Fri 15-Jan-16 13:30:21

By the way, my university charges £250/hour for my services. Students who have one-on-one meetings with me for 20 hours per year are therefore getting £5000 worth, even without taking into account anything else the university provides!

titchy Fri 15-Jan-16 13:37:40

How many schools do you know of with particle accelerators OP?

maybebabybee Fri 15-Jan-16 13:40:17

Universities aren't the reason high fees are charged FYI. You want to try looking at the government for that.


HeadDreamer Fri 15-Jan-16 13:41:07

I did electrical and electronic at university so I probably get more than my fee's worth of services!

Zazedonia Fri 15-Jan-16 13:43:42

Many academics are paid approx. £40K per year, not so much more than school teachers. And undergraduates don't need 1 to 1s with top academics.
Universities also make money in other ways through research and collaboration.
Should arts and humanities students be expected to pay the same as STEM and medics students, who get so much more in terms of time and equipment?

OP’s posts: |
Readysteadyknit Fri 15-Jan-16 13:43:51

Are the fees that humanities students pay subsidising science students then?

Zazedonia Fri 15-Jan-16 13:44:28

Do undergraduates need particle accelerators?

OP’s posts: |
maybebabybee Fri 15-Jan-16 13:46:29

OP seriously your gripe is with the wrong institution.

treesarebrown Fri 15-Jan-16 13:49:56

University is about developing your own thinking and meeting people with similar interests and exchanging ideas. The fees provide space and time for these processes to occur. Lectures and seminars are about stimulating students own research and work not spoonfeeding (as is more and more the case in schools)

The Conservatives since they came in in 2008 have had a user pays agenda. This has meant increased payments for users of universities (and railways etc). At the same time Germany has scrapped fees. Having the space and time that University provides is beneficial overall for society. Thus university in England is so expensive because of Conservative ideology.

Alternatively it might be that the Conservatives have a hidden agenda to destroy universities by making them so expensive so they there only users can be very rich families. Universities are one of the last bastions of opposition to neoliberalism now that large industry, trade unions and Christianity have declined (also it looks like England is about to be detached from left leaning Europe and Scotland). So it might be said that university fees are so high to create a neoliberal society where an elite have everything and the rest of the country are serfs.

titchy Fri 15-Jan-16 13:50:12

LOL at universities making money in research!!!!! Research covers its costs. Nothing more.

No of course not all UGs need particle accelerators. The point is that UG study needs more equipment than A Level study. How else do you study at a higher level. You also need more expertise than an A Level teacher - how many school teachers have post-Doc experience? All the poorly paid lecturers will have. Otherwise they're just delivering what schools do, with no more expertise or development.

titchy Fri 15-Jan-16 13:52:30

If Arts UGs and STEM UGs paid what their courses actually cost, no-one would do Medicine, or Dentistry or any science. No Vets, no Physicists. No Biology teachers, No Engineers? Does sound good?

Needmoresleep Fri 15-Jan-16 14:11:57

Top private schools charge a lot more than £9,000 a year. Day fees for Westminster sixth form are £8,774...a term and my understanding is that day places elsewhere are not far off (one example Brighton College £7,370). So essentially similar to what overseas students pay for University.

TrinityForce Fri 15-Jan-16 14:14:45

I also wonder why university is so expensive now.

The fees were capped at £3k per year back in 2010, what changed exactly to make that £9k per year?

I admit to being ignorant to the actual costs to the university.

SeekEveryEveryKnownHidingPlace Fri 15-Jan-16 14:16:01

The government stopped chipping in with the other £6K, Trinity!

maybebabybee Fri 15-Jan-16 14:17:51

Demand is a big part of the problem IMO. Too many people are going now who shouldn't be, because sadly university is seen as the be all and end all and it's really hard to get any kind of decent job without a degree these days.

I'm a PA. A degree should not be a requirement of my job but for anything I want to go for that pays above 25k, I need a degree. Which is ridiculous.

Sadly degrees are now being treated as necessary tickets to high flying careers more than anything else and universities are being run as businesses. You have Mr Cameron to thank for that.

niminypiminy Fri 15-Jan-16 14:19:21

The fees were capped at £3k per year back in 2010, what changed exactly to make that £9k per year?

The government used to give the universities money for teaching undergraduates. Now it doesn't. That's what changed.

Readysteadyknit Fri 15-Jan-16 14:23:05

Why does my Masters course cost less than my DD's undergraduate degree? We use similar facilities and our contact hours are not dissimilar.

maybebabybee Fri 15-Jan-16 14:25:15

Depends entirely on your Master's course, surely? Mine cost £7000 but my best friend's cost £15,000. Both in the UK.

titchy Fri 15-Jan-16 14:26:45

Most Masters courses still get some Government funding. Most UG courses don't readysteadyknit

seekevery - for some course the Government funding was almost £20k.

TannhauserGate Fri 15-Jan-16 14:31:11

Fees are so high because short-sighted governments don't understand that a well-educated populace is good for society, and this they decided to stop funding institutions to the level they need.
Other countries manage it. It's purely ideology.

disquisitiones Fri 15-Jan-16 14:57:03

Many academics are paid approx. £40K per year, not so much more than school teachers.

Some academics are paid £40k per year, but the average professorial salary is over £70k per year. Both salaries are low by international standards, particularly when you take into account the level of experience and expertise required. Even a lecturer paid £40k will have a PhD (eight or more years of university education) and some years of experience in research/teaching.

Humanities students don't subsidise science students. International students are the main source of subsidy for science courses.

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