Since the rise in tuition fees from £3,375 to £9,000 per year in 2012, many universities have massively increased their spending to include huge campus redevelopments.
The University of Birmingham is currently in the middle of a £500 million campus revamp, set to take place over a 5 year period. Part of this plan includes the recently unveiled £60 million library, which the university hopes will herald “a new generation of libraries in UK higher education”, as well as a brand new £55 million sport and fitness centre. Work will begin on redesigning the centre of the Birmingham campus to make it more ‘green’ in early 2017, whilst new student accommodation will open at the start of the next academic year.
Up in Edinburgh, the entire university estate is being overhauled, with work already started on redoing the Edinburgh College of Art buildings over a phased, 6 year period. Refurbishments of the grand McEwan graduation hall as well as the School of Law buildings are now also underway. The university has funded the project with a “significant investment”, although actual figures had not been published online.
Here in Manchester, the changes being made to the campus are plain to see and have been designed “to create a progressive and creative environment.” The creation of this new environment is costing the university £1 billion over a 10 year period.
The new engineering campus, currently under construction, will be the “largest single development undertaken by the university” whilst a £10.6 million annex is being added to the Schuster building for Physics and Astronomy. The University has stated that these developments are underway to “meet the needs of tomorrow’s students”—some current students feel that perhaps more focus should be put on the present:
Current final year student Sam feels that many of the changes are “new but unnecessary” and would “rather they spend it on renovating the accommodation rather than the SU.” He said “most of the first year accommodation I’ve been in is disgusting in design, cleanliness and technology” and suggested that perhaps instead of new buildings, it would be worthwhile providing basic services such as Wi-Fi across all current student accommodation, to benefit present students.
International student Hui Wen Chong told The Mancunion “tuition fees for international students have reached £21,000 per year—absolutely insane!” She does not think that the novel developments are directly linked to the rise in tuition fees, but instead that they are simply a popular way of investing the new surplus funds across UK universities. However, she also said that she would “rather have the money be spent on other stuff like research [and] it would be nice if we could have more spaces like the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons”.
Universities have argued that these new developments are not as a result of hiked tuition fees. Bath University said that the numbers of grants to higher education institutions across the UK have been cut over the past few years, so the increased tuition fees are only replacing these.
However, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the combined income from both direct grants and tuition fees rose by nearly £3 billion from 2010-11 to 2014-15. Having said this, there are now record numbers of undergraduates at universities, providing the institutions with higher incomes but also with increased costs.
David Cameron stated that the increased fees had made students “more fussy” about their degree choices and where to undertake them; this has been backed up by market research and has led to competition between universities to get the top students attending their institutions. This has caused them to use the extra cash from higher tuition fees to splurge on brand new developments and refurbishments in order to woo potential students—leaving some current students feeling let down.
In a recent interview with The Mancunion however, Professor Dame Nancy Rothewell stated that “quite a lot of the new buildings have got a lot of external funding—the Whitworth was externally funded, all of the National Graphene Institute, we got a big donation for the business school, graphene engineering and innovation centre, that’s entirely externally funded… there’s quite a lot we’re not paying for”.
Gabriella, a third year English student, stated “sometimes I do think that £9,000 from lots of students is probably going on the building work. I think there could be more money spent on helping us with the everyday costs that we have to incur.”
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