Rant of the Week: ‘At What Point Do You Stop Being a University, and Start Being a Business?’

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The origin of the title is a direct quote: my friend was working for the clearing hotline over the summer, and the father calling was attempting to bribe to university to let his son in. He thought that money would be more valuable than the university than academic performance, that whilst others can earn their place through hard work, he would be able to get his son in because of money alone.

Obviously, this is absurd. This argument that educational values can be compromised by money and power surely goes completely against the ethos of education. However, I believe that the example of this father is the very tip of a troubling, unequal and elitist iceberg that we have become all too used to. This is clear with the structure of tuition fees. Although we are told that first year ‘doesn’t count’, why does it cost the same as the two subsequent years? The first year differs in value, so it would make sense for it to have a price proportionate to that, despite having the same quality of teaching staff. Paying £9,250 to write a few essays is a problem in itself, but I am not going to go into that: the figure itself is terrifying enough.

Another financial axe I have to grind is the requirement to buy ‘essential supplies’ for each module. These usually amount to at least £40 textbooks, and most students take eight modules in one academic year. If the first year does not count, is spending money on these supplies not somewhat fruitless in the grand scheme of things? Yes, we have a library, but there is about five books in comparison to around 200 students on a module: sharing with the person next to us just isn’t feasible.

What does this £9,250 even pay for? Judging by the fact that most of my lecturers are currently striking due to potentially catastrophic cuts to their pensions, I doubt it goes towards paying for high-quality academic staff. Even if it is a bit inflated, I would be willing to pay that price for a quality of education. But, the university struggles to show them basic respect, let alone paying them appropriately.

It doesn’t go towards student accommodation costs either – in the three different halls complexes I have stayed in (all university-owned), all have had problems such as broken lights, mould, bugs, doors that don’t shut and toilets that don’t flush. Basic living costs are overlooked, but my Vice-Chancellor apparently requires three parking spaces, which I’m sure costs a pretty penny.

We also are expected to pay for printing, which as an outgoing cost isn’t particularly troubling for me. However, considering the university has over 24,000 enrolled students, that cumulative £1 top up here and there as we are required to print our own 10-page paper or risk a mark cap all adds up to thousands of pounds every year.

The University is currently preparing for a restructuring process , through which our eight existing faculties will be merged into five. With the reason for this cited as make the university more cost-efficient, it would appear that our academic services are being streamlined with the fat trimmed down: risking up to 75 jobs in affected faculties (including my own).

As Amber Rudd once put it, this ‘magic money tree’  keeps growing with no clear destination. Simultaneous to this cost-cutting, Southampton’s Vice-Chancellor has had countless pay rises and even sat on the committee which controlled his pay. With similar reports coming from the University of Bath as well as a recent Times investigation which found that some Vice-Chancellors are being paid as much as £800,000 a year, it is clear we have we a problem.

I would argue that the reason the aforementioned father deemed it appropriate to ask the point at which universities become a business is because, these days, they seem more like corporations than educational institutions. I dread to think what the future holds if nothing changes.

 

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Wessex Scene's friendly neighbourhood Opinion Editor with a love of memes, food and complaining. Also News Editor at the Soton Tab and occasional contributor to The Daily Touch.

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