'So, what are the course costs associated with this subject?'
It's a question often overheard during open days as applicants weigh up potential universities. For many students, higher education represents one of the largest purchases they will ever make and an investment worthy of serious cost-benefit analysis.
As well as carrying an opportunity cost of at least three years' lost earnings, undergraduate tuition fees alone now average £27,000 and are set to increase over the next four years. Yet, a newly-published report titled 'University of the Future: Transforming Learning and Improving Value' finds that 43 per cent of students think that university does not offer good value for money.
From a bottle of nail varnish to a mobile phone charger, young people now rank, review and evaluate the most prosaic of purchases. Since most undergraduates have grown up with online shopping, review systems, Which? guides, university rankings and comparison tools, it's unsurprising that they should carefully scrutinise the value of such a momentous purchase.
Of course, people will hold conflicting views as to how value for money should be measured. The quality of academic facilities, such as libraries or computing suites, continue to be top factors in choosing a university with ranking systems commonly comparing academic spend per student, average graduate earnings and tutor contact time.
While the government's controversial new Higher Education and Research Bill is purportedly designed to ensure students the best value for money, it has been criticised by many and is currently the subject of intense debate in the House of Lords. In the words of Lord Stevenson, the reforms are a "a classic case of understanding the value of everything and the cost of nothing".
Regardless, it's clear that as institutions compete for applications in a competitive market, many are already going to great lengths to boost value wherever possible. Some now boast an assessed work experience placement for every student while others provide free budgeting classes. One university offers a 'no hidden extras' promise to cover all course costs and some online nanodegree providers even come with a 'get a job or your money back' guarantee.
Considering that 69 per cent of students say that having core textbooks included in course fees would represent better value for money, many universities are now giving students access to a digital bookshelf as an attractive enhancement to their academic offering.
"The free etextbooks have made a huge difference to me both financially and academically" says undergraduate marketing student and Kortext user Inayat Patel. "Each of my textbooks would have cost £30-£70 and I saved around £250 in the last year alone."
If tuition fees are to remain at current levels with the likelihood of further rises, astute institutions will continue to add value wherever possible - through improved support, digital innovation, personalised learning and overall cost savings.