The Price of Education

Last year I finished a one-year MA by research at the University of Nottingham.  The tuition for this single year was about £9,000.  That’s ludicrous.  Even the £3,000 required of students from the UK or EU seems a bit steep.

For my £9,000 I got the following: my student ID card; access to a library and electronic library resources that probably had, generously, 60% of the books and journals I required; £25 worth of copying and printing at the library (the research room at the department also had a printer, so it was mostly for copying); £40 of interlibrary loan vouchers (which did help in procuring the other 40% of books and journals I needed); ten supervisions with my supervisor; and my graduation certificate.  Admittedly there are incidental things along the way: the cost of holding departmental lunches, printing out packets for new postgraduates during welcome week, etc.  The department offers travel money for students going to give papers.  I also understand that the tuition postgraduates pay goes to pay for the university’s advertising, the hosting of events, remodelling and maintenance of the campus, and so forth.  I accept that there is some cost incurred by the university in me being a student.

But, really, there isn’t much.  The professors are already all there teaching undergraduates.  The library is already there.  All the buildings are there.  As an individual, each postgraduate costs the university very little.

And it’s not like we sit around doing nothing.  In my one year, I presented three papers and wrote two for publication.  In each of those instances I am, in a sense, working for the university.  Each time I gave a paper, I represented the university.  The university’s name will appear alongside mine in publications.

Postgraduates, particularly research students, should be expected to work.  They should be expected to produce publishable material.  They should be expected to teach courses.  They should be expected to assist professors with research.  They should not be expected to go broke paying for their education.  Most universities make most their money from undergraduate enrolment (I’m tempted to say all universities, but you never know…).  That doesn’t even take into consideration the money they make by doing research for everything from Speedo swimsuits to pharmaceutical companies to anything else of commercial interest.

Given the size of a university like Nottingham, there is no reason that departments shouldn’t be able to support 20 or so research students.  Let funding provide stipends for the most competitive applicants and allow the rest to manage the financial obligations of study (rent, books, beer money) through loans, working, or appeal to their parents. At the same time, universities shouldn’t allow their researchers to get off without doing work.  Students half way through their Ph.D. should be submitting proposals to conferences and journals.

I don’t expect a free ride.  I just think that the burden placed on postgraduates should be academic not financial.

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5 Responses to “The Price of Education”

  1. Rob Says:

    Wow, three conference presentations during a Masters! I did one (almost entirely by accident) and this was considered rare, though admittedly I was doing a taught masters. What I would say about graduate students, and particularly foreign graduate students is that – sadly and rather cynically – they are essentially viewed as cash-cows by UK universities. The issue is that you’re not just paying for yourself, you are also subsidising the other – less profitable – activities of the university. This also means – I think – that this money is not necessarily substitutable for you doing more academic labour, as the deficits may well be in areas far away from your own.

  2. michaeloneillburns Says:

    Good, and sadly accurate, post. There is an interesting comparison to be made between graduate departments in the UK and USA. In one sense, it can be said that the UK system seems to make graduate study more accessible than it is in the states. I say this as their applications have less to do with arbitrary ‘numbers’ such as undergraduate GPA’s and GRE scores, and more to do with the actual academic potential and performance of potential graduate students, in the form of lengthy research proposals and writing samples. The fact that most UK institutions offer the part to complete a research degree part time also makes graduate study more accessible to those with a genuine interest in research, but for whom full time study isn’t a practical/finnancial option. On the other hand, I will say that UK institutions do something a bit ‘sinister’ by accepting so much full time research students into their departments without any chance/hope of funding. At least in the US, with their generally arbitrary and ridiculously selective admissions requirements, you’re guaranteed quite generous funding for 6 or so years on admission. The basic problem seems to be that UK departments don’t have ‘access’ to funds on their own account, and thus students wanting support have to apply to external funding bodies, which is a bit absurd. A department should have the finnancial resources available to offer funding to students who they deem as suitable for their department. And as you rightly note Tommy, it’s not like giving a couple of students a funding package a year is that big of an economic strain. The tuiton cost are fairly unnecessary anyways, and if you attach a necessitite to spend 2 years tutoring along the way, you’re in a sense ‘earning’ the stipened you’re recieving.

    A good example of a department that does this in the UK is the Middlesex Philosophy department. They are one of the only places in the UK with accessible MA funding, and they offer a generous PhD studentship available to all applicants, regardless of where their passport is from. They are also one of the only departments in the UK where PhD students actually teach (not tutor) while they are studying, so they truly do seem to ‘earn’ their funding. More universities/departments should take up this model of graduate funding, but sadly, it’s unlikely.

  3. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Well US programs are as sinister in that you work for your stipend by teaching rather heavy class loads, usually after 2 years. Very few students get the opportunity to study in a truly funded sense.

  4. Rob Says:

    michaeloneillburns – it should be noted that – at least for PhD’s – universities tend to have some internal funding. The AHRC (the main funding body for arts and humanities) is also now doling out money directly to institutions, who are then at liberty to distribute studentships themselves. In this way, we are – I think – moving towards a system in which funding is perhaps more ‘internal’.

    I’d also highlight what APS says, from all the horror stories I’ve heard about from grad students in the US (that they essentially function as cheap labour) I’m quite glad about the fact that most UK funding isn’t conditional upon this and that people ‘choose’ to teach for the purpose of furthering careers.

    Also, I would raise the point – again – that we are possibly applying the wrong sort of standards to this. If the function of graduate student fees is essentially to subsidise other activities which means university authorities are operating with a different logic to the one we are.

  5. Adam Roberts Says:

    “Most universities make most their money from undergraduate enrolment (I’m tempted to say all universities, but you never know…)”

    Sadly, in the UK at any rate, this isn’t the case. The amount of funding each UK institution gets from the government per UG student capita has been cut to a barely break-even level, at the same time that the numbers have been enormously increased. Institutions are now actively encouraged to recruit PG, especially overseas PG in the higher fee band you identify, as a way of bringing in more money and balancing the books. Other ways of raising money, eg research grants (which institutions and departments top-slice), are better suited to science than humanities applicants. Other than that it’s AHRC grants, which in turn leads to a near hysteria about the RAE. Most humanities departments in the UK are genuinely strapped for cash

    I do not, of course, defend this situation. It sucks. But that’s the way it is.


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