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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