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Tuition fees: views and perceptions of prospective students

  • 1 March 2019

This guest blog has been kindly written for HEPI by Andy Nicol, Managing Director at QS Enrolment Solutions

The Augar review into post-18 education is set to have a profound impact on the funding of higher education in the UK. With knock-on effects on how students and prospective students make decisions about the value for money and return on investment of their degree, it is crucial that we take stock of the experience of prospective students.

Now in its second year, QS’ Domestic Student Surveyhas allowed us to gather a significant amount of information on prospective students’ interests, motivations and priorities and gives an indication of how these are changing over time. This year’s survey (of 1,700 respondents, mostly aged 16-18) sought to unpack what they believe to be the appropriate balance between their individual investment in their degree and that of the state. Our research indicates that the financial burden of higher education is a drag on the sector, in terms of appealing to prospective students, and that it prompts prospective students to think carefully about return on investment. 

39% of respondents say that the debt they will take on makes them less likely to apply to university than they otherwise would. It is perhaps not surprising then that overwhelmingly (88%) survey respondents believe that Government should be funding at least half of the teaching cost of an undergraduate degree. These prospective students also said that their tuition fees being spent on student accommodation, course facilities, careers support and links to employers would represent a return on their investment.

HEPI’s own researchlast year found that 74% of students want more information on where their fees go. According to university accounts, the research also found that typically only around 45% of each student’s fee goes on the direct costs of teaching – such as staff salaries. The majority of the remainder is also spent on areas that benefit students. After teaching, the next biggest cost is buildings. Then come other high priorities like information technology, student support services (such as counselling and careers advice), widening participation activities and the students’ union. 

It is promising that much of where students want to see their tuition fees spent aligns with where money is currently being invested. However, it is worth noting that any reduction in funding to institutions – potentially as a result of the Augar review – is likely to be passed through to these areas. Government and the sector should therefore work closely to ensure that these new funding arrangements do not negatively impact prospective students’ perceptions of value for money or else risk a drop in domestic applications. Communications of where tuition fees are spent is key, and, as HEPI calls for, commitments to deliver more information must be met.

Now is the time for Government to work more closely with universities to ensure it communicates how potential new funding arrangements will represent value for money. With political, economic and demographic challenges facing the sector, it is more important than ever that institutions understand how to engage better with potential recruits. That’s why as part of this report we have published an Action Plan for Domestic Student Recruitment in 2019to help universities and Government do just that.

With eighteen institutions inside the top one-hundred of QS’ World University Rankings, the UK’s higher education sector has a proven legacy of delivering high quality education and forms a vital part of the UK’s economy. As an ally to the sector, QS is committed to playing our part in providing insights and solutions to support the sector.

1 comment

  1. Paul Ashby says:

    ” It is perhaps not surprising then that overwhelmingly (88%) survey respondents believe that Government should be funding at least half of the teaching cost of an undergraduate degree”

    Which with the RAB charge being what is currently is, is almost exactly what happens now, if only they knew it…

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