There is no way of putting it delicately, but the current financial state of higher education in our country is in a dire mess. Putting aside the ethics of whether university education should be free, or not, the current loans system is simply not fit for purpose and unless it is dramatically altered, we will be facing a serious funding crisis in the next 20 to 30 years because roughly 45% of graduates won’t pay back the entirety of their student loan, having not been able to reach high enough pay grades.
Whilst this is depressing enough in itself, the problem is then amplified at every single higher education institution in the UK as they are then forced to increase their revenue streams in every possible way, which puts pressure on the individual student when they have to pay for not only their tuition fees but also their living costs such as rent for halls.
Our front page story has highlighted how the university plans to increase the profits it makes on halls of residence by 3.4% each year until 2019, in order to pay for planned investments in facilities on campus, which are predominantly designed for the benefit of the student. Obviously, the university has to pay its way, and it has to continue to invest in new infrastructure and resources on campus if it wants to remain knocking on the door of the ‘big kids club’.
However, when a student’s maintenance loan doesn’t completely cover the price of their first year rent, the fact that not all of the rent profits will go back into the maintenance of halls does present serious questions about whether this increase is actually an indirect course fees charge. It is also interesting that the university has stated that it views the rising cost of living to be separate from any barriers to access of higher education, and that the union believes they are infact dealt with by totally separate committees within the university.
Whether this is simply another case of higher education institutions sticking their heads in the sand over the problems facing students, just like the department of Business, Innovation and Skills has done by cutting maintenance grants, closing a vital route into university for so many students from lower income families.
This disagreement between the union and UEA is not quite a clear cut as one would be lead to believe. A UEA spokesperson explained that the rent increase had been planned in conjunction with the union because of opposition a number of years ago about a proposal from the university to privatise halls of residences.
The original plan would have provided the university with a one off lump sum of money from the sale of all student accommodation, which they could then invest in projects such as the Enterprise Centre, and the new accommodation currently under construction on the old Blackdale site. Yet, if the union was involved in these discussions, it does beg the question, why are they so surprised about the decisions? This continual discord between the university and the union cannot really be in the interest in students. It is quite right that the union does stand up for students, and ensure that we get the best possible deal out of our time at university, but it is worth remembering that this won’t actually impact anyone directly, because we only ever live in halls for one year of our degree.
The main thrust to this disagreement between our union and UEA is not a particularly unique one, and as our article explains, it isn’t as simple as either party suggests, but it essentially boils down to the fact that the money needs to come from somewhere, and at the moment that’s got to be the students.
Moving on to a much more positive note, and one which I approach with as much excitement as I do sadness; our time at Concrete is drawing to a close. Luckily for those of us in our final year, the end isn’t quite with us, but we are beginning to start the process of opening applications for next year’s editorial team. We’re not quite there yet, but do keep checking our website and social media for more information on that front.
If you’re a long term writer, reader or just fancy trying something new, getting involved with Concrete is something which I can thoroughly recommend. We’ll be opening applications for our senior editors, that is Editor-in-Chief and Deputy Editor before Easter and then section editors after the break. We encourage everyone to apply, no matter your level of experience. If you do have any general queries about the application process, do drop us an email and we’ll be more than happy to help!