Value for money Watch

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rallen
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Inspired by today's BBC article about students university complaints.

When I was a student many years ago I viewed the university as an untouchable, God-like institution, that I was lucky to be a student of (somewhere in the North of England). Even when I noticed the obvious failings and sloppiness, I did not think any deeper into the real problems, because I was very naive in the ways of the world.

What were the problems then? And what are the problems now?

Well, the role of the university is to provide its students with the higher level of academic tuition, which can not be found anywhere else. In addition its role is to provide the research into all fields of technology and science, with no limits and no restrictions imposed by commercialism, funding, culture, religion and so on. In an ideal world.

What I found way back then, and was too naive to understand in depth, was that the university was very much a company that has to look after its revenues and expenditures, and where the students were, and still are, a captive audience, and can be sold anything, almost, without much protestation.

Number one is the prestige of the university. Will I, as a graduate, proudly print the uni's name on my business card, even when I am 60? Or is my university a complete unknown to anyone outside the UK with no international recognition whatsoever ? Well, we all know the answer to that one. With the exception of Oxford and Cambridge, and three/four London Colleges, namely UCL, Imperial, the LSE, and maybe also Kings, the rest of the UK unis are not something you'd want to print on your business card, because people would laugh at you. Pay attention how the Americans proudly refer to their universities on almost every TV series there is, Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Princeton, Brown and many more, mentioned all the time in American TV Series. Now good luck printing "Bristol" on your card...

Another major consideration is funding. Where the UK universities proudly announce a few millions of pounds worth of investments, the US universities budgets are in the billions. Whatever we teach in the UK is bad photocopies of second year papers written 10 years ago by US students. This is not an exaggeration. We have no money and no infrastructure to afford the research and the equipment available to the US students, by a factor of over 1000. Where the US students test in wind tunnels, blow up real rockets and work on linear accelerators 200 feet below the surface, the UK students use computer simulation programs and read off of photocopies of some US research.

How about the teaching staff. The lecturers and professors. Are these people really good in what they do (teach) ? Are they on top of their science and in addition can they teach it ? And who exactly are they? Are they renowned in their fields? Will you as a graduate, and later in your life be able to brag about who your lecturer was in this and that course? I am being told that many of the lecturers are junior assistants, many cannot even speak English properly let alone teach. In my time my supervisor was always drunk, impossible to get guidance and advice from him because he was either drunk or with a hangover. And he was not good in what he did anyway. Well had he been good, he'd be doing it, not teaching it.

So after all this provocation above, I want to ask you : why are we paying 9,000 per year in fees, in addition to what the government pays to the universities from our tax money ? In Holland it costs 1900 euros per year to an EU student. Which means you pay just 1900 euros, and 0 from your taxes. The ridiculous UK universities demand 9000 pounds plus our tax money.

Now Cambridge and Oxford are excluded. A speaker from Cambridge said they had way more funding than other UK universities and could and did recruit the best quality tutors to ensure the best possible academic standards. But the rest of the UK unis are mostly a joke. A 9,000 per year plus tax money joke.

Did you know that the yearly salary of a university professor is c. 80,000 per annum? Paid by our taxes? Have you seen their jobs? What exactly they do? Their working hours? When was it the last time you went out in the private sector, cruised in dressed in jeans and a t-shirt past 9am, worked like 7 hours a day, if that, no semi-yearly appraisals and bottom 5% of employees fired, and earned 80K per annum? Because I would like to have that job too.
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Magdatrix >_<
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I'm not sure if you have a particular point here, but I'll pick up on a few strands.

Firstly, I do not believe that you do pay fees to get 'value for money'. You pay fees to be a member of the institution; for the facilitation of the rest - the rest being up to you. In a consumer mindset this may seem like madness, but that's how it is, and not just in academia. (A tangential example could be that if you paid to go skiing, you couldn't complain that you had no fun if the reason you had no fun was that you'd spent your week staring at the hotel wall.)

While part of me thinks that academia should not be 'about the money' and that universities should focus more on their facilities, research, and teaching at times rather than 'window-dressing', the reality is that 'window-dressing' probably helps. Everything costs, and if attracting students/staff is a way to earn an income, then that has to be done. A good institution cannot be one that is unsustainable, and has to take steps to sustain itself.

This part though, made me laugh:

(Original post by rallen)
What exactly they do? Their working hours? When was it the last time you went out in the private sector, cruised in dressed in jeans and a t-shirt past 9am, worked like 7 hours a day, if that, no semi-yearly appraisals and bottom 5% of employees fired, and earned 80K per annum? Because I would like to have that job too.
I think you underestimate. Most of the work done by these people is probably behind the scenes - when did you ever work in the private sector regularly writing papers until 4am, running experiments at all hours, and constantly receiving emails from whining students to which the only polite response is "This information is in your textbook". It's tough work, and even if it appears not to be, it's definitely a long haul to get there. I doubt that you can justify the assertion that any academic only works 7 hours a day (and if you're basing this on an observation of 7 hours in the office per day, this doesn't cover it). 'Flexible' (and long) hours are probably the basis of most academic success.

As for the point about jeans and a t-shirt...this is (for me) one of the bonuses of academia. In the corporate world, people are judged on their ability to conform to clothing that fits some undefined person's definition of 'smart', 'appropriate', and 'acceptable' - yet this has no reflection of the person's ability to actually carry out their work effectively. A professor can wear what they like, possibly because their work can speak for them,
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rallen
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The point about working hours etc - in the private sector, and for a job that'd pay you 80K or over, you'd have to work your ass off. There will typically be appraisals every 6 months followed by a round of redundancies. Every 6 months. The bottom performers are out. And yes you would work at all hours, as the markets are open all hours, and you'd be on your toes, and your US bosses will book appointments in your calendar at 10pm and then Hong Kong or Singapore will call you at 3am. Or did you think that the private sector simply hands out 80K per annum jobs for the 9-to-5ers? Compare and contrast with the state sector - universities included - no appraisals, no fear of getting fired on every turn and so on. If you want a similar "cruising" job in the private sector you'd earn less than 50K.

Back to unis, I believe they are overpriced for what they are. They are mediocre institutions being supported by foreign students who somehow still think there is a British Empire; and by the tax payers as always. But why is the price in Holland 1900 euros? Are the UK unis 8 times better than the Dutch ones? And I am not including the government (tax) money in this.

I was talking to the admissions at Harvard. The discussion went something like this
Me : "do you know and understand A levels and the British system?"
Her : "yes we are quite familiar with it."
Me : "how come?"
Her : "since the introduction of fees we have been getting an ever increasing number of applications from England"...

This was Harvard. Yes it is more expensive than 9000 per annum, but boy, it's like comparing a 40 year old Scoda to a brand new Mercedes.

As usual, in the UK, we are being fleeced. We always pay too much for too little.

Students cannot see this. They have never paid taxes. They have never paid taxes on taxes (eg VAT and council tax). They have not wondered why the standard of living is going down, including schools, hospitals, local roads and council services, but the taxes are going up. Students have not yet been on the receiving end.

However this BBC article does show that some students are more aware than others, and do ask questions. Yes it is a "value for money" question - it has always been. The culture may be wrong, making the student feel he is at the mercy of an untouchable university, but in reality it is the student's parents and their taxes that have supported the university all along, and nowdays the student himself.

There are many wrongs, in my opinion, with the English universities. Now that students have to pay direct they have become more exposed. Hopefully in the next few years people will see them for what they are - sponging off the tax payer and in addition denying local kids places in order to take foreign students that pay even more - no sense of loyalty to the British taxpayer that has been supporting them through the years.

Imagine if you walked into your local hospital and it was full with foreign patients, and there was no place for you even though you have been paying dear taxes for decades.
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David B
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It's not like we're paying for university with our own money. Student finance pay for it and once we get a decent job earning over 21k a year we start paying it back. We get student finance to pay for university to get better job prospects which we wouldn't be able to get without university.

So which would you rather have?
Earn 12k a year and pay nothing to Student Finance
Earn 22k a year and pay back like £30 a month

Since university will allow us to make more money than we would've, why is it a problem to pay back a little bit of money that we wouldn't have gotten without a degree?
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Joinedup
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(Original post by rallen)
Inspired by today's BBC article about students university complaints.

When I was a student many years ago I viewed the university as an untouchable, God-like institution, that I was lucky to be a student of (somewhere in the North of England). Even when I noticed the obvious failings and sloppiness, I did not think any deeper into the real problems, because I was very naive in the ways of the world.

What were the problems then? And what are the problems now?

Well, the role of the university is to provide its students with the higher level of academic tuition, which can not be found anywhere else. In addition its role is to provide the research into all fields of technology and science, with no limits and no restrictions imposed by commercialism, funding, culture, religion and so on. In an ideal world.

What I found way back then, and was too naive to understand in depth, was that the university was very much a company that has to look after its revenues and expenditures, and where the students were, and still are, a captive audience, and can be sold anything, almost, without much protestation.

Number one is the prestige of the university. Will I, as a graduate, proudly print the uni's name on my business card, even when I am 60? Or is my university a complete unknown to anyone outside the UK with no international recognition whatsoever ? Well, we all know the answer to that one. With the exception of Oxford and Cambridge, and three/four London Colleges, namely UCL, Imperial, the LSE, and maybe also Kings, the rest of the UK unis are not something you'd want to print on your business card, because people would laugh at you. Pay attention how the Americans proudly refer to their universities on almost every TV series there is, Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Princeton, Brown and many more, mentioned all the time in American TV Series. Now good luck printing "Bristol" on your card...

Another major consideration is funding. Where the UK universities proudly announce a few millions of pounds worth of investments, the US universities budgets are in the billions. Whatever we teach in the UK is bad photocopies of second year papers written 10 years ago by US students. This is not an exaggeration. We have no money and no infrastructure to afford the research and the equipment available to the US students, by a factor of over 1000. Where the US students test in wind tunnels, blow up real rockets and work on linear accelerators 200 feet below the surface, the UK students use computer simulation programs and read off of photocopies of some US research.

How about the teaching staff. The lecturers and professors. Are these people really good in what they do (teach) ? Are they on top of their science and in addition can they teach it ? And who exactly are they? Are they renowned in their fields? Will you as a graduate, and later in your life be able to brag about who your lecturer was in this and that course? I am being told that many of the lecturers are junior assistants, many cannot even speak English properly let alone teach. In my time my supervisor was always drunk, impossible to get guidance and advice from him because he was either drunk or with a hangover. And he was not good in what he did anyway. Well had he been good, he'd be doing it, not teaching it.

So after all this provocation above, I want to ask you : why are we paying 9,000 per year in fees, in addition to what the government pays to the universities from our tax money ? In Holland it costs 1900 euros per year to an EU student. Which means you pay just 1900 euros, and 0 from your taxes. The ridiculous UK universities demand 9000 pounds plus our tax money.

Now Cambridge and Oxford are excluded. A speaker from Cambridge said they had way more funding than other UK universities and could and did recruit the best quality tutors to ensure the best possible academic standards. But the rest of the UK unis are mostly a joke. A 9,000 per year plus tax money joke.

Did you know that the yearly salary of a university professor is c. 80,000 per annum? Paid by our taxes? Have you seen their jobs? What exactly they do? Their working hours? When was it the last time you went out in the private sector, cruised in dressed in jeans and a t-shirt past 9am, worked like 7 hours a day, if that, no semi-yearly appraisals and bottom 5% of employees fired, and earned 80K per annum? Because I would like to have that job too.
That sounds flamboyantly expensive and rather pointlesss really, people in the actual rocket industry would much rather use computer simulation than blow up real rockets afaik. British unis produce world class research for less money - being efficient is usually considered a good thing, there's nothing particularly clever about hosing unnecessarily large amounts of money up the wall.

the uni name on the business card thing just seems like a cultural norm tbh. a lot of things that are taken as standard in the US look ridiculous to brits and vice versa - I'd venture this is one of them. Possibly the US entertainment industry is constantly referring to their prestige universities as a class background indicator for the characters, apparently our cousins can't establish a poshness pecking order just by listening to each other speak as easily as we can.

I quite often think about the admin side of unis as being last great bastions of the old style pre-thatcher nationalised industry mindset though... but with a C21st sense of CEO entitlement to huge salaries on the part of the VC's.
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rallen
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(Original post by David B)
It's not like we're paying for university with our own money. Student finance pay for it and once we get a decent job earning over 21k a year we start paying it back. We get student finance to pay for university to get better job prospects which we wouldn't be able to get without university.

So which would you rather have?
Earn 12k a year and pay nothing to Student Finance
Earn 22k a year and pay back like £30 a month

Since university will allow us to make more money than we would've, why is it a problem to pay back a little bit of money that we wouldn't have gotten without a degree?
The UK unis still get their funding from the government and from national taxation regardless of locality. It is just like council tax - we pay local taxes but the council receives additional, and very significant funding from national taxes and county-wide budgets.

So we cannot possibly say, or claim, that the tuition fees are the only means of funding. We all (tax payers) have been paying and continue to pay for UK unis.

In addition the government underwrites the Student Finance so again this is tax payers money. They even give it to foreign students who simply leave the country and never will repay. And the government are obliged to do so because there are large numbers of foreign students in the UK unis - else there would be many empty classrooms.

Your way of looking at it, in my opinion, is wrong. You said, "it is Student Finance, not our money". But it is "our" money - we have paid taxes for it, maybe not you, but certainly your parents and grandparents. And by the time you are a bit older, you will be paying taxes too. Student Finance is not magic it is all tax money. There will come a time when you will also start to question how your council and your government spend your tax money, especially when you get to the receiving end of bad or failing services that affect you, and your family, directly. There will come a time where you will wonder if your tax money has been spent wisely or simply squandered.

Paying fees is OK as long as the uni is a completely independent and private organisation free to set its own fees with no handouts from the government. Which is, maybe, where they are trying to go to, but I am not sure, if the government would cut down on funding so much that would allow a university to go bust. I do not think it will ever happen.
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NJA
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Video clip

Do you see yourself as a customer buying an information download that will enable you to earn more, or a privileged person who can drink from the fount of human knowledge and apply it in a useful way in years to come, perhaps going beyond into the previously unknown, a sort of space cadet?
Last edited by NJA; 3 weeks ago
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