Stop Selling My Education | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Stop Selling My Education

Music Editor Luke Charnley explains why we must stop focusing on the financial value of our university education

If I had a penny for every time I heard someone on my course sarcastically utter the words ‘I paid £9000 for this’ every time a minor inconvenience occurs, I would have started my loan repayments in first year.

That’s not to come off as smug. I’ve said it myself a fair few times, particularly as an arts student where tuition fees are generally perceived to pay fewer dividends than in the hard sciences. However, this obsession with ‘value-for-money’ when it comes to higher education is, ironically, undermining the core value of the education itself.

They ensured that those who are worst off in society will always remain the worst off

And with recent data finding only 35% of students see university as good ‘value-for-money’, it’s becoming more and more important to consider addressing the changing perception of universities.

Recent proposals from Universities Minister Jo Johnson and the Department for Education outline a two-year, ‘accelerated’ degree programme. Its unique selling point is that ‘when most students are completing their third year of study, the accelerated degree student will be starting work and getting a salary’. The appeal of this is clear, and I would never be so naïve as to claim that the majority of students don’t see their time at university as a means to an end, with that end being employment.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore that it was the Conservatives who hiked the cap on course fees in the first place. It was them who removed other sources of academic funding to force universities to charge higher fees, who scrapped maintenance grants for students from low-income backgrounds and replaced them with loans. They ensured that those who are worst off in society will always remain the worst off.

More and more do we think of degrees purely in terms of where they can take you next, rather than what they are worth now. The cost associated with them makes it difficult for all except for the most well-off to think in such terms. A fire of economic anxiety is engulfing higher education, and the Conservative Party has been more than happy to fan the flames.

Like the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) before it, the accelerated degree exists only to find ways of profiting from students by slowly but surely changing higher education into a market. Degrees become commodities that give you skills to join the workforce, and if that can be achieved in less time, at less expense to the state and with higher profits then it will be pursued.

It is also important to consider the human cost of viewing education as a commodity. Contrary to what our parents might say, students (and yes, arts students) do work hard for their degrees at the current level of three years.

An obsession with ‘getting what we paid for’ has begun to override concern for the well-being and security of academic staff

Now, imagine trying to fit in another 120 credits of university work, as well as societies and a social life, on top of the placements and part-time work that many students have to do to sustain themselves at university. Split equally across two years, each year would be worth 180 credits: the equivalent of a full-time Masters, all without any prior experience of university-level work. How’s that for value?

This method of thinking also erases one of the most important ‘unique selling points’ of higher education: the value of research. The opportunity to learn from the academics who perform world-class research is what sets the UK higher education system in a league of its own.

Yet, students are increasingly pitted against their lecturers rather than encouraged to work alongside them. The recent name-and-shame controversy surrounding Panopto and the use of the Module Evaluation Questionnaire represent just some of the ways in which an obsession with ‘getting what we paid for’ has begun to override concern for the well-being and security of academic staff.

If we begin treating lecturers the way some people treat retail staff, if we begin seeing education as simply something that we are paying for, then the entire HE system suffers.

Given the right’s typical disdain for the ‘left-wing bubble’ of academia, perhaps that was always the point.

Final year English student. Music editor and pretentious nerd. (@lukechazza97)


21st December 2017 at 9:00 am

Images from

Abhi Sharma