Student Finance, Universities, and the North East

Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to have financial implications for students and providers alike, it is important to have a closer look at these issues and explore what they mean for students and staff alike.  

Student Tuition Fees 

Exasperated at the prospect of online learning for the third year, students are currently demanding tuition fee rebates in order to account for students only being able to access lectures via Zoom or YouTube tutorials.  

What is interesting is that students who are rightfully upset at the lack of value for money that the current degrees present often don’t know what their tuition goes towards. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) did research into this back in 2018 and they found that

  • 55% of the money gained through tuition goes towards administrative structures, buildings and mental health support. This is despite only 20% of students wanting their money to go towards management. 
  • Meanwhile, only 17% of the money goes towards ‘enhancing teaching’, despite over 60% of students believing that their money should be spent on that. 

This frustration is deepened by the government’s reluctance to support rebates, with Michelle Donelan stating that universities are responsible for setting fees, therefore washing their hands clean of any responsibility. So now frustrations are pointed at individual universities.  

Most undergraduate university courses in the North East charge the maximum tuition fee of £9,250. Combine this with the limited access to university facilities and transition to online learning as a result of the pandemic, and the end result is only 24% believing that their course has been of good value this year. 

This is in comparison to postgraduate degrees that often have more variation in the tuition fees requested, however this comes with a caveat that will be covered later. 

Rent  

A key issue within the lives of university students this year has been paying for accommodation rent during the pandemic where they may have lost part-time jobs. Students have reported having to pay up to £6000 for housing that they have not been able to use.  

This resulted in university students across the UK threatening rent strikes against accommodation providers in order to make their voices heard

As explored previously, private accommodation providers in the North East often charge even their cheapest accommodation at £99 a week, making them exorbitant for most students, even if they have a part-time job. This brings us to the issue of…… 

…Student Income 

One of the most difficult things about being a student even without a financially disastrous pandemic might not be the studying or socialising after all. It might just be about maintaining financial health!  

Living costs in the North East, while not the most expensive, aren’t exactly the cheapest either. Transport costs, for example, can add up to £256 a year and entry to nightclubs cost £5 on average. In 2021, these financial commitments add up to students spending £795 a month.  

This results in students being short of £223 a month if they rely on the maintenance loan alone. 74% of students surveyed relied on part-time jobs in 2020 in order to make up for this. But then COVID-19 happened, and those who did part-time jobs in hospitality were furloughed. 

Another key issue that is often ignored is that postgraduate students can only get a loan of roughly £11000 for the entirety of their course. While this is not dependent on household income, students must pay their tuition fees using that loan. This means that they are left with less than £2000 to cover living expenses, which includes food, rent and bills for the whole year.

And that’s only if your postgraduate degree is for one year. If you have more than one year on your course, you would have to pay out of pocket for the tuition fee the next year, which means the postgraduate loan may not cover the cost of the whole degree.

Change is needed

Students have struggled massively with the pandemic this year in terms of their income. For students like myself entering their final year of their degree next year, this becomes even more of an issue as final year students get less maintenance loan due to them not being classified as students over the summer.  

The government has made no change to this despite the clear damage that the pandemic has caused financially to students. Isn’t that the current Conservative government in a nutshell though? 

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