In the last year, student news has been dominated with headlines about increasing tuition fees. While £9000 a year has a ring to it that's not hard to forget, many students are also being hit by hidden costs that universities expect people to pay without subsidisation or previous warning.
These hidden costs come in many forms. Whether it's a compulsory field trip, useful text books, pens, paper, specialist equipment or printing fees; it quickly adds up. A survey I completed at the University of Edinburgh has revealed that students spend £272 per academic year on average on the additional materials they have to purchase for their course. Across the standard four years students in Scotland complete, this adds an extra grand onto an already mounting loan.
Medical students seem to be the hardest hit, with the third years I spoke to spending up to £700 a year on text books, bus passes and specialist equipment such as stethoscopes and fob-watches. Students in Edinburgh are expected to do placements in hospitals and locations across Scotland, with travel fees only being subsidised if their costs are above a (particularly high) margin.
Arts students are also expected to pay out nearly £200 a year on books and printing. Some people might suggest getting the books out of the library and saving the trees by printing out as little as possible to save money. However, when it comes to text books, you have to overcome the challenge of finding the right book in the library (six copies of Robinson Crusoe is not enough at a university renowned for English that takes 275 students a year) and be able to take them out for long enough to read, study and remember for exams that are sometimes five months later.
There are some support systems in place. Following the increase in tuition fees - from £3,375 in England to up to £9,000 - universities that charge more than £6,000 now have to offer bursaries, summer schools and outreach programmes, to encourage students from poorer backgrounds to still apply.
However, these bursaries are only offered to a handful of students and, for many, it is not the tuition fees that are the problem. As soon as a student's attendance is confirmed at their university, the Student Loan Company pays out and the money for the tuition is not seen until later years when the debt must be repaid. Hidden costs have a much bigger impact on students during their studies, as they are mandatory expenses that have to be paid out as and when the course demands them to.
Yet a medical student cannot turn up without a stethoscope, a literature student without their books and a biology student cannot refuse to go on a compulsory field trip. Do this, and we risk failing. With a 62 per cent increase in tuition, perhaps it is time that a small portion of that money should be put towards supporting students who can't afford the things they have to have. Paying for a course is one thing, completing it is another.