Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The cost and price of an education

Lots of people more articulate and intelligent than me are spending a lot of time talking through and about the tuition fee announcements that have been revving up over the last couple of weeks. I heartily salute all of them. But the thing that gets me isn't the price, it's the cost. Because what universities are choosing to charge is definitely a price, not the cost of running those degrees. For the lower HEFCE funding banded subjects - mainly arts and humanities - by charging about £9k you've added approximately £2.5k on top of the current tuition fee plus HEFCE grant. I haven't seen any discussion of the actual cost of delivering different types of undergraduate degrees during the course of the tuition fees debate. If I've missed a decent analysis please enlighten me by leaving a comment.

As a large part of my job is about trying to set up the delivery of degrees somewhere other than our main university campuses and without HEFCE funding, the underlying budgeting model doesn't apply. I have tried to push the academics I work with and the decision making structures to pursue accurate costing for these projects. The majority of these activities are meant to at least cover their costs and ideally make a contribution to the running of the School they are based in. But if you haven't costed it properly, and that includes working out an appropriate overhead contribution, then you won't know if you are meeting that goal. Frankly the attempts at costing I've seen - both involving and not involving accountants - are dismal, deeply limited and unrealistic. This is a big part of why the great white hope of internationalisation is not all it is cracked up to be - if we costed things properly most of the time we wouldn't actually be able to justify doing them.

Surely this is just as important for mainstream teaching on our home campuses.

  • How much does it actually cost to teach an undergraduate these days?
  • In addition to the direct costs (time of academic staff, classrooms etc.) what indirect costs do we need to apply?
  • What's fair to add to the student's bill and what should we be funding from other sources?
  • How fair is it for arts students to subsidise more expensive subjects, or is that ok? 


What would a breakdown of where the new £9k fees are being spent look like.... anyone.... anyone?

2 comments:

Mumummumm said...

Hmmm! Yes, i've not heard anything about that side really, except possibily some waffle-filled comments along the lines of "well, it really isn't that much in the grand scheme of things, there is still a lot the students aren't paying for..."
Enjoying reading more about your work. :)
xxx

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