The astronomical rise in tuition fees left many students wondering just where universities would spend the extra finances - and now a new report reveals where the money is going.
Since the controversial increase, fees have largely replaced the income universities used to receive from the public purse.
According to a new report by Universities UK, institutions are spending in five key areas:
Outreach and financial support
Since the introduction of variable fees universities have made substantial increases in their spending on widening access so students from low-income backgrounds are not put off going to university. Examples in the report show how universities are adapting the financial support they offer in the light of student feedback, for example by providing cash bursaries, accommodation discounts and reducing associated course costs.
Teaching and learning
Universities are adapting to students’ increased expectations. In many cases universities have anticipated the introduction of fees, borrowing against future income, so that students are already benefitting from better teaching and improved facilities. The report demonstrates how many universities are improving teaching space, investing in libraries and IT infrastructure, extending opening hours and creating new social learning spaces in response to feedback. Examples in the report show how universities are involving students in the decision making processes, such as in redesigning a library or improving assessment and feedback.
Investment in university estates has been a visible outcome of higher tuition fees. Between 2010 and 2011 nearly 80% of institutions reported they had maintained or increased the quality of their non-residential estate. Universities have also created joined-up systems offering students one point of contact for all support services
Investment in employability was one of the strongest themes emerging from responses we received from universities. Examples include major initiatives to increase the uptake and support of placements with employers to improve graduates’ job prospects, and dedicated support for particular groups such as students in creative arts subjects to help them start their own businesses.
While tuition fees have given universities opportunities to transform the learning environment for their students, the new system also brings with it volatility and risk. Universities are reporting the need to build financial stability in order to withstand the volatility arising from the transition between funding models.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “Since the introduction of tuition fees, people have quite rightly been asking questions about how universities are spending the income.
“While this report is only a snap shot, it gives examples from universities all over England, and shows how they are investing in improvements in teaching, facilities, support services, careers support and financial support. These investments are making a substantial and positive difference for students."
Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “This timely report quite correctly says that universities are powerful agents of social mobility, with the ability to drive forward fairer access to our universities and colleges."