Lab v lecture hall: Whose tuition fees are you paying?

Lab v lecture hall: Whose tuition fees are you paying?

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On university campuses across England, arts, humanities and social studies students are subsidising those on lab-based science courses, which are more expensive to run.

This is because nearly all undergraduate courses come with the maximum £9,250 price tag.

Ministers are looking at introducing a more variable system as part of a review of fees. What do students think about this?

The science student

Jasper Williams, 20, studies physics at Manchester (with a little bit of philosophy on the side).

He is set to leave university with debts of about £30,000, mainly for his fees but also for his maintenance loan.

He paid £6,000 in his first year to live in university halls of residence, but was helped by his family with this hefty housing bill.

“It would be lovely for it to be free, but I do recognise that more people are going to university.

“I do believe that university is an investment in my future.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I hope that by studying a physics-based course I will be able to get a higher paid job so I hope it will be worth it.”

He agrees wholeheartedly, however, that arts students are subsidising science students.

“My sister did English. She was always saying she was subsidising sciences students, and she was right because the running costs of her degree was incredibly lower than it was for physics.

“Also your contact time is much lower. Some people doing more humanities-based subjects – they have half the contact time that I have.

“The flipside is that we are meant to be doing the same amount of work.”

Additionally, he says the ratio of students to tutors in tutorials can be very different.

“I do both. And in my philosophy there are 12 to 16 people in a tutor group, and in physics it’s three to four.”

Asked about reducing fees for those on arts courses, he says he might be for it, in terms of “you get what you pay for”.

“But also it would discourage people from doing science, and that’s not something that we should be doing.”

However, he would like to see a different funding system brought in and finds it especially unfair that students are charged a 6.1% interest rate on their loans.

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Kat is studying social sciences

“That’s incredibly high. It’s higher than most interest rates you would pay on a bank loan.”

The social studies student

Kat Ferris, 21, is in her third year of a sociology degree at York University and is expecting to graduate with about £37,500 of debt. The bulk of this is for her tuition fees.

Her parents support her by paying her rent and she qualifies for a yearly maintenance loan of £3,500 a year.

She says she feels utterly overwhelmed by the amount of money she will owe.

“It’s such a huge amount of money that it doesn’t really feel very real to me at the moment.

“It probably will feel real when I start working, but it hasn’t quite hit me yet – it’s too overwhelming.”

“Then again, some of my friends are on a low income, so they will be coming out with debts of about £50,000.

“In terms of the disparity in courses it’s not just contact time, it’s also the state of the departments.

“For example, York has a real push on sciences and there’s a brand new biology building and the sciences have all this sponsorship coming in.

“The sociology building – it’s got to be the oldest building on the campus. It looks a bit shabby.

“Whereas in science, we have all these state-of-the-art labs, and you think, ‘How can this be the same university?'”

‘Grants’

However, she says she doesn’t feel this “subsidising” is a massive issue.

“I know what I pay doesn’t just go to my department, it goes to the university as a whole.

“But there is something flawed in just how much difference there is in the different departments.”

But Kat is more concerned with students from low-income backgrounds graduating with larger debts than those with wealthier families, because of the maintenance loans these students have to take out.

“People are going in with less money but coming out with a bigger debt.

“A reintroduction of a grant would make much more sense in terms of equality.”

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