The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has just published a report looking at how universities spend student tuition fees and how well they communicate to students what they get in return for their money. It shows that, despite continued exhortations to do more in this area, progress has been slow. And that universities across the sector need to do something about it now.
The report identifies that around half of tuition fee income is spent directly on teaching students, while the rest helps to pay for academic support services, like libraries and counselling services. Typically, though, it is only the first half of this sentence that has made it into most of the media coverage of the report.
The report also makes a strong case for providing students with more information about how their tuition fees are spent and what they are getting for their money. And it highlights some case studies of good practice, including (to my intense glee) Falmouth University, with whom I had the pleasure to work as they developed their approach.
There are some useful recommendations in the report, such as referring to tuition fees as ‘student fees’ (although most people I know across the sector prefer ‘university fees’), working with students to better understand their information needs, and publishing specific financial information on how students’ fees are spent. It also encourages regulators to do more to promote transparency in this area.
As the report makes clear, this is not a new issue. HEFCE, the OfS, BUFDG and AdvanceHE, among others, have already done a lot of work in this area, much of which I have been involved in. But progress has been tediously slow. And it is surely only a matter of time before the OfS and the funding councils decide that enough is enough and demand a more rigorous approach. Institutions across the sector need to take this issue seriously. And they need to do something about it now.
If you’d like to discuss how your institution communicates with students about how their fees are spent, and how you could do better, please do get in touch.