I’ll try and keep this as simple as possible because whether or not the pricing of tuition fees is ethical, is a controversial topic.
Tuition fees is clearly a huge issue in today’s society but I’m going to try and steer away from any political arguments as I feel that is an area I am not educated in enough to comment on. I’m going to use some rough figures of my course and accommodation to give an idea of costs and what you will actually be paying for.
“I find these costs misleading when you’re initially looking at universities, and this I believe is the often overlooked ethical issue: are you getting what you’re paying for? And even more than this, are the universities intentionally misleading you to justify their pricing?”
Accommodation – In my first year (before the increased University fees) I paid around £3000 a year for my student halls which I can accept, for a person of my age it sounds like a lot of money, but I’m sure it’s justified for a year of living. However this is where my issue arises: I signed a 42 week contract for my halls which is good because they take off a few weeks payment seen as you’re going to be home over Christmas and Easter. However you’re not actually at university for anywhere near close to this period of time. For those of you who don’t know, most universities work like this: for most first year students you arrive around the middle of September and then you stay for 11 weeks which is called a semester, and when they’re up you go home for Christmas which is typically 3-4 weeks. You then come back for a further 2 weeks to finish off your first semester and then this repeats, 11 weeks break for Easter and then 2 weeks after Easter to finish 2nd semester. This is where the problem arises depending on whether your course is assignment based or exam based you can be finished after those 2 weeks after Easter.
I’m going to give an example here, my flat mate after Easter only had 4 days back at university to hand in a few assignments and then was finished, and I mean done for the year. This means that she had finished her first year of university on April 5th and did not return until the first week of October as a second year student. For those of you who aren’t following along with the maths this means she got a 5 month summer break, 3 of which she was still paying for her accommodation as our contracts finished on July 1st.
I can see a partial reason for making us pay for the accommodation over the summer in which we’re at home because of course some international students will stay in accommodation over the summer as they can’t go home or even some British students may stay to work over the summer or for any reason which they decide. However, should we all pay for this potential option which most don’t use? I don’t see any complex potential problem which would stop us having an opt in and out option on our accommodation forms for those who don’t want to pay the extra fees for accommodation which we’re simply not using.
Having thought in depth about what I was paying for in terms of accommodation I can only believe that the way these fees are priced is unethical, is it right to suggest to young naïve students that they are paying for a year’s accommodation, when in fact they are not? Should universities make more of an effort to outline what we are paying for? Or is it simply the student’s responsibility to understand what they are paying for?
Similarly I believe there is a certain degree of misleading when it comes to what your money is going towards in regard to duration of education. I may be alone here but when looking at university, I saw a £3200 price tag on my education as a little steep but it seemed normal for a year of study. However as I mentioned above we’re not actually in education for a whole year, or even close to that, we have 2 semesters which are 13 weeks and then a few weeks on the end depending on your exam/assignment deadline dates. I’m going to exaggerate excessively here but I genuinely think universities should be reported to the ASA (advertising standards agency) under the trade description act if they ever suggest that a university degree is made up of 3 years as they are in fact made up of 3, 26 week teaching periods. In other industries this kind of misrepresentation would be illegal, so why is it universities can be so unethical in the way they represent their degrees? Is it unethical to draw fresh faced A-Level graduates in to long expensive payment contracts at one of the most critical times of their lives as well as the time in which the majority are uneducated in the way of the real world?
*Disclaimer: These opinions do not represent my attitude towards my own University, only the system behind the way they are priced.