Discuss - University, is it Worth the 9250£ a Year?

Thursday, 8 April 2021

*The name of my current University or previous universities attended will not be named in this post. This post is based off my own personal experience of UK universities and therefore does not apply to other university systems elsewhere.*

Growing up I was one of those kids who was constantly reminded the value of education. Although I don't think it was ever explicitly said, with two university educated parents, not going onto higher education was never really an option. That being said, it was also never something that I even questioned. In fact, by the last two years of high school I vividly remember being excited to finally experience what my mum assured me would be, "the best years of your life." It's safe to say that I had high expectations. I was taken by the idea of joining different societies, meeting new people and, most importantly, only having to study the subject that I wanted to study. So taken, that I was willing to pay the 9,250 yearly university fees. I mean, with all the glowing reviews of the 'university experience' how could it not be worth it? But 3 UCAS applications, 1 dropout, and 2 1/2 psychology degree years later and I find myself returning to the question more and more often. Has it really been worth it ?

As much as I'd love to say yes, the real answer is much more complicated. Although, of course, extremely grateful for having been given the opportunity to continue my education, I find myself growing increasingly frustrated by the system. A system, I might add, which has slowly become one of the most expensive worldwide (1) (so much for education being a basic human right...). It's for this reason that I feel the need to share my issues with the current UK university system. 

1. The Price 

I don't think university should be free. Actually, let me revise that. I don't think it's realistic for university to be free. I'm aware it used to be, and yes, in an ideal world all education including university should be free, but it's pretty clear that this isn't an ideal world. With around 47.2% of 18 year old's being admitted to university for a first degree, in comparison to 3.4% in the 50's (2), the possibility of providing a good free university system with all the facilities seems a bit far-fetched. The issue I have is not with paying but the sheer amount that we're paying.  Of those going to University 1.3 million have a student loan, and in 2019 outstanding loans reached 121 billion pounds (3). To me this just cries out "No one is getting what they f*cking need!" and yet despite this growing problem the government have decided the way to combat it is to raise fees even higher. Yep, that's right, lets just get people into more debt despite the fact reports already show an inability for the majority to pay off their current loans. Additionally, those who accrue the most student debt also tend to be those from lower income families already at higher risk of not being able to pay off their debt (4)

While I agree that students should pay, I believe this should be on a level in keeping with many European university systems, whereby tuition fees often fall below 1,000 pounds (1). I also find it somewhat ironic that those who benefited from a free university system, are now currently enforcing policies requiring students to pay obscene amounts of money. 

My final issue with university fees is linked to the subsequent points and really whether the the facilities, teaching and worth of experience outweighs the price. 

2. Teaching & Contact Hours 

So, you only have to go into Uni for 8 hours a week? That's great, right!? Wrong. While, it might seem like the best thing in the world, in my opinion, it only emphasizes that glaring hole in my pocket even more. With research suggesting an average of 13 hours a week across all UK universities and degrees, it only makes me wonder what exactly we're all paying for (5). In fact, an article by the Guardian proposed that some students might actually be paying as much as 135£ per lecture! (6) Bit crazy, but obviously that just means that there's a high degree of quality, right? I mean we all know that dedicated, enthusiastic lecturers, core textbooks, and in depth interesting lectures don't come cheap. Actually, from my personal experience, they're not only extremely expensive but pretty much non-existant. Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing all lecturers, there are definitely some that clearly do love teaching and put a lot of effort into their lectures, but the majority (at least that I have!) seem to deliver the same run-of-the-mill textbook speech and often do a very half-arsed job of teaching. To put it simply, I think the supplementary in 'supplementary reading' would probably be better put to use to replace the core in 'core lecture.' Because, if I'm perfectly honest, if you go to the lecture it's more likely than not you're just going to be told to read the textbook anyway. A textbook I might add, that is probably 30£+ and not provided by the University. And no, 4 copies in the library does not suffice for a class of over 150.

So, It's fair to say that as I sat there in my first ever lecture listening to the lecturer bang on about how he hated students sending him emails asking for help, and how he won't be answering any irrelevant questions, I was already questioning where exactly all my money was going. 

3. Marking 

Surprisingly enough, this is probably the point I take the most issue with. I understand that marking huanities and subjects that do not have one clear answer can be difficult, however the inconsistencies with grading between modules within a discipline often means that your grade is highly dependant on your examiner (7). For example, while one lecturer might love the use of tables to present data another will decide that it's messy and unnecessary. This becomes particularly frustrating as lecturers will often avoid questions on presentation and indicate that students 'should know the right way to write an essay.' But, with 'right' being highly subjective, the perfect essay can seem impossible to write. Especially when examiners themselves don't seem to know what they actually want.  

Additionally, this problem is also apparent within modules. In fact, a lecturer in first year once told all students that writing in tables would not be included in their word count, funnily enough it was and, as a result of this inability to have clear consistent grading guidelines, students were subsequently marked down for being over the word count. In my *almost* three years at Uni, inconsistencies with marking have by far been the biggest complaint I've heard from friends within and outside of my subject. Alongside this, the complete lack of feedback further suggests uninterested lecturers, and a weak grading system in which lecturers themselves don't have a clear idea of what they're looking for.

I'm well aware that this may just sound like me being bitter over shitty grades, but as someone who is actually quite happy with my current marks, I just want to state that this isn't the case. Yes, these observations have been taken from personal experience, but they have also been reinforced by friends and students from other universities who have mentioned similar frustrations.    

4. The well-being facilities 

While I've never been overly impressed with the well-being facilities at my Uni, I think the current situation has really highlighted the problems within this area even more, and shown that they are just as apparent on a national scale. This is not solely a problem within my Uni, but a problem within the system itself. I'm not going to lie, I could probably talk about this issue for days, but to save you the time (and *boredom*) I'll hold off and stick to in-lockdown problems. 

- In-take for 2020: I think for me this just emphasized the prioritisation of money over health. With the transition from school to University already being a stressful and difficult time for students, I don't think there was much thought as to how covid might exacerbate these feelings. I believe that Universities misled prospective students by drastically downplaying the effects that covid would have on their University year, in order to ensure in-take remained high. As a result, many first year students came to Uni with the idea that Covid was not going to be as big of an issue. However, in reality, with students only being allowed to socialise within their flat, and spending majority of their time contained to two rooms (often their bedroom and a living space), students are not getting the 'normal' experience. Whilst this may not seem like that big a deal, this is extremely important when it comes to those with mental health problems that rely on social support and distractions. I believe that if Universities had taken a more transparent approach those with mental health problems may have opted to take a year out or, could have been better prepared for the covid adaptations.  

- Changes to Assesements: With studies showing a general increase in anxiety and stress levels in students during the pandemic (8), I think it's clear that workload and assesements should be altered with this in mind. While A-level exams and GCSE's are getting cancelled, university students are expected to continue to deal with high workloads and stressful exams. Additionally, they also have the burden of paying for expensive accommodation, tuition fees, and house bills, despite not even living at their term address or being able to use University facilities (e.g. no in-person lectures, no societies, no access to labs or equipment). Aside from a letter stating that we won't be getting a no-detriment policy, which to me suggests that there has been no difference in University from pre-covid to now (laughable), there has been little acknowledgment of a pandemic at all. This to me shows an unbelievable disregard for student well-being and mental health.       

-Responses to Suicides: In a bid to keep this post from turning into a book, I'm going to keep this short. University responses to suicide often take the form of "I'm sorry for your loss, but we do have adequete mental health services already in place." Yes okay, but  clearly your services have failed. Instead of backing poor systems to cover themselves, the response should address how they will improve services to help students suffering with mental health problems. Mental Health activist Ben West better explains this issue here.   

Being completely honest, I don't think this is a small issue, but one that needs to be tackled on a much larger scale. Unless we, as a society, stop attributing mental health problems to personal mental weakness, I think wellbeing services will continue to fail. 

So, do I think it's been worth it? It's hard to say for sure. While there are some clear flaws in the system, I also believe that having a degree has become essential for many jobs. But, that's just it. I think, especially during current times, the focus has moved away from actually teaching and moved more towards "well, at the end you get a certificate that will help you get a job, and we've now got money to continue our very important non-teaching related research." All I can say is, wow, who knew a piece of paper could cost so much?

What do you think of the University system? Let me know in the comments!
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  1. This is such an interesting post. Personally, I hated school so I opted for an apprenticeship. Not only does my work pay my fees but I get a degree out of it and it seems like I also get a lot more support. I really feel it for Uni students, especially through the pandemic. I think it's ridiculously high price for a few lessons a week.

  2. Insightful post! Loved to hear your thoughts on this! I'm also mindblown by the 8 hrs a week -- that's so cool but maybe not so much for you. I also liked how specific you are in this. THanks for sharing!


  3. I was a history and French student, and I also noticed discrepancies in marking when it comes to humanities subjects. I think sometimes it really does depend on the tutor, which is a shame. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this tricky subject x

  4. This was such an interesting read! When I moved to the UK I was so sure I would get just a year gap and go to uni, but seeing the prices for a degree that I was not so sure about put me off on even trying. i think it's ridiculous that school don't support student enough and mostly it seems to just come down to money. Thank you for sharing x

  5. Amazing post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! I totally with the fact that university is way too expensive and it should be reduced (especially this year with covid restrictions). I feel sorry for everyone in university right now because they aren't getting the uni experience that they deserve and it must be so hard for them.

  6. Interesting post! The price was one of the factors that actually put me off going to university, and it's a shame to see so many paying for so much but not getting the education they deserve during the pandemic. Thanks for sharing!

    Anika | chaptersofmay.com

  7. By the time my daughter is old enough to go to university, I sincerely hope the fees are more in line with other countries. I'd like to add in a personal thought that a lot of niche courses are of no benefit to employers and that surely must have a knock on effect on what funding or donations the universities are able to attract. And I recognise the picture at the top of your post :)

  8. This is so interesting, I think the price is honestly so high and there are so many benefits to going to university, but I think over the last year the price is still too high for the education students are geting!

    Love, Amie ❤
    The Curvaceous Vegan

  9. This is a really interesting post to read! I think you're right in saying it's not feasible for unis to be free and that it is essential for some jobs xx

  10. Interesting read! College was an incredible time in my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and wish it was more financially reasonable

  11. After reading this and looking at the conversion rate, all I can say is wow! University is so much cheaper in the UK than in the US. I'm sure it's a lot compared to other countries, but it sounds like a bargain to me as a US citizen.

  12. I've gone all the way up the education system & I'm currently paying £10k per year for my PHD (top London uni prices) and personally in the long run I think it's worth it! Without my BA or MA I wouldn't be where I was today - if you're going to continue education I think it's worth it x

  13. This is such an interesting post. I chose not to go to uni but I always enjoy reading others people's thoughts and experiences. I do think a lot needs to change with the university system though.


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