Hidden Fees No Thanks
Hidden Fees No Thanks
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2. Introduction The Students’ Union believes that no student should have to pay unanticipated, unbudgeted and unreasonable costs for things that are essential or important to their success at University.
1. Foreword by the President It is my pleasure to write the foreword for this report and I’m proud of the content of it, uniting the various aspects of our ongoing ‘Hidden Fees’ campaign. Northumbria Students’ Union appreciates the positive, constructive relationship we have with the University, whereby we are included in high level discussions and debate about the future fee structure and pricing strategy and actively encouraged to submit our views on topics like Hidden Fees. We know the University values our role in representing student opinion, acting as a critical friend and being honest and challenging about areas where we think the University needs to improve. Sabbatical Officers, Student Council, and many student volunteers have been involved in this campaign from taking pictures for our ‘photo petition’ to designing the survey and talking to students. I would like to thank everyone for their contribution. Finally, I hope you enjoy reading this report and look forward to working closely with the University to eliminate Hidden Fees. Adam White Students’ Union President 2010-2011
In our opinion, it is simply not fair that students that are paying £3000 a year tuition fees, let alone £6000+ a year, should arrive at University only to be told during their first week that they have to pay extra for field trips, equipment or software etc. Information that is often omitted or not made clear in the prospectus or on the University website. This report sets out a case for the elimination of Hidden Fees at Northumbria, focussing on why this change should be fundamental and beneficial to the future financial strategy of the University. It gives insight into how deeply Northumbria students feel about this issue. There are quotes from current students that should leave the reader in no doubt that this is a widespread concern.
“If fees rise there should not be any more extra fees to pay!!! I strongly support this campaign.” 1st Year Arts & Social Sciences Student
The report will give a snapshot of the current picture on Hidden Fees, giving examples of where they exist across the University and how much students are paying. Finally, it will set out our vision and proposals for what we would like to see in the future, as a consequence of this campaign. These proposals apply at both the level of University policy but also in terms of follow up action and delivery.
Hidden Fees No Thanks
3. What Are Hidden Fees? We recognise that there will undoubtedly be many different views and opinions on what should and what shouldn’t be categorised as a Hidden Fee. In our opinion, there are a two main characteristics that define Hidden Fees.
Page | 2 recognising that more than 50% of students are surprised at how much they have to spend on books. We would encourage the University to consider packages which include free core text books for students, especially on programmes where the cost of delivery is lower than the overall fee set for tuition.
Firstly, they will be, or there will be a perception from the student, that they are essential to or at least have a significant impact on the ability of the student to succeed on their course.
“Practitioner texts which we are expected to use/have but are not provided - one text costs in excess of £250, and is provided to free-standing bar students, but not bar exempting students.”
In the case of students who are told that their expensive field trip is optional, they often feel that whilst they are not forced to attend, ultimately it would be detrimental to their learning and results. In our view, this is a Hidden Fee.
3rd Year Law Student
“I find it abhorrent that one of my modules included a compulsory field trip to Majorca for which students were expected to pay an additional £200. £200 is a lot of money - equalling almost 1 months rent - when we are living on student loans. I fully support your campaign.” 2nd Year Spanish and Business Student
Secondly, Hidden Fees are unexpected. Students when they are preparing for their first day at University have probably anticipated that they may have to pay for text books and that they will need to buy their own pens and notepad. Our research and experience tells us that students do not anticipate being told that they will need to find the money for their lab coat, studio fees or specialist software. It is important to note that we do not classify text books as Hidden Fees, although it is worth the University
Hidden Fees No Thanks
4. Why is this an Issue? Concerns around Hidden Fees have existed for a number of years at Northumbria and this campaign, timed to coincide with discussion and agreement about the future fee pricing strategy of the University will hopefully bring the main issues to a head and resolve many students’ concerns. The first and arguably most important aspect and justification for this campaign is student satisfaction. There is no doubt in the Students’ Union’s mind that where students have had to pay Hidden Fees, it has and will continue to impact negatively on students’ perceptions of the institution. We believe this will manifest itself through NSS results and other satisfaction surveys that are carried out. As will be made clear in section 5, the University should not underestimate the strength of feeling about this issue. Many students simply do not believe it is fair or reasonable to fail to be upfront and transparent (at the point of application) about the potential costs of studying. “It’s about time someone did something about hidden costs. Although it wouldn’t have stopped me taking the course, it would have been beneficial in the decision making process to have a rough estimate of how much I would need to spend on course materials. Of course with an art based degree you expect to pay more.... I just didn’t realise how much more.” 2nd Year Fashion Marketing Student At the moment, and in a world of increased fees, effective financial planning is vital for any student. Hidden Fees not only undermine students’ ability to effectively plan their finances, which in itself is potentially catastrophic for student parents or students from low income
Page | 3 backgrounds, but they also mean that students face being unfairly out of pocket. “Everybody pays a huge amount to come to uni, these additional costs were not saved for and I struggled to pay for them.” 1st Year English Language Student The likelihood is that student loans will continue to only cover ‘tuition fees’. If Hidden Fees are incorporated as part of a bundle that represents the whole cost of tuition, they will be eligible to receive a student loan that covers it. If Hidden Fees continue to be an ‘optional’ cost that students are charged for directly, then they will receive no additional student loan allowance for this cost and will face a continued reduction in their general living allowance. There are implications for the University in developing its Widening Access Agreement. Fair access is not just about getting into university but having choices in relation to your programme and future career. It is our belief that Hidden Fees disadvantage students from low income families and unless addressed could potentially impact on OFFA’s approval for Northumbria to charge higher than £6,000 tuition fees. Finally, as the University prepares to position itself within the uncertain marketplace that awaits, NSU believes that there is a strong business case for incorporating the things that currently form Hidden Fees, into the overall bundle of support that is provided to students. Rather than worrying about students complaining about the unanticipated £300 field trip on the Applied Sport and Exercise Science course, the University should be using it as a marketing tool, selling this course on the principles of pay £X,XXX per year, and a free field trip will be included. Giving the University and course potential competitive advantage.
Hidden Fees No Thanks
5. The Northumbria Picture Based on our research and feedback from over 400 students, the following are examples of Hidden Fees that currently exist within the University. This is not an holistic list, nor has there been a full opportunity to audit this – the examples are based on students’ feedback alone and are included for illustrative purposes only.
5.1. Field Trips
Page | 4 Overall, there were more than 20 different courses cited by students as paying Hidden Fees on essential trips related to their course, an interesting insight into the number of students this impacts upon. The Median cost as reported by only those students paying for trips was £230.
“I have not incurred extra charges due to the nature of the course, but my daughter who is studying Environmental Management regularly incurs extra charges for field trips.” 1st Year Criminology and Sociology Student
Field trips were reported to exist within Built and Natural Environment, Life Sciences, Design and the School of Arts and Social Sciences. Specific courses that were highlighted include:
5.2. Clothing (lab coats, costumes etc)
Geography and Environmental Management (£500), MSc Sport Marketing (£1000), Fine Art Painting (£400), Sports Development and Coaching (£350), Applied Sport and Exercise Science (£300), Graphic Design (£300).
A significant number of students have highlighted that they spend sums of up to £200 on course-related clothing, with the mean spend amongst students that reported costs, equalling £32.
“Every sports student is expected to pay £300 to go on a trip at the end of May to the Lake District. I got told if I did not pay for it, then I would fail the course.” 1st Year Sports Coaching Student
There are also a number of students on courses that report paying smaller amounts for course-related trips, such as £50 for a trip to Berwick on the BSc Geography course. Other cited courses include Fashion Marketing, BA Early Primary Education, Accounting, Drama and Scriptwriting, Design for Industry, Environmental Health, Crime Science and MA Housing Policy and Management.
This expense is heavily focused within the schools of Life Sciences and Built and Natural Environment, but there are also a handful of examples from Arts and Social Sciences, Design and CEIS. The majority (78%) of students that highlighted examples of Hidden Clothing Fees stated that they felt they were an ‘enexpected cost’
“I definitely think we pay enough in tuition fees for our field trips, printing credits and lab stuff to be free” 1st Year Environmental Health Student
The cost of lab coats in particular has been an issue that has been raised by students and Course Reps over recent years but has not as yet been addressed.
Hidden Fees No Thanks We would like to highlight HCES as an example of good practice in this area. All nursing students get all of their uniforms provided for free. Unfortunately though, this can cause resentment amongst students in other schools who do have to pay for their course-based clothing.
5.3. Specialised Software Surprisingly, examples of Hidden Specialised Software Costs are spread across the majority of the 8 academic schools. It is one of the least localised areas of unexpected costs. Courses highlighted by students with a requirement for specialist software (that they had to buy) range from Games Design and Production and Contemporary Photographic Practice to Design for Industry, Fashion and Applied Computing. The mean expenditure by students that list this as a Hidden Fee is £200 and one student notes:
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“Concerning value for money on the course. 2nd year TD are constantly being forced to leave studios by tutors whereas before Christmas we had a designated work area. Many of us feel this is very unfair as all other courses in the building have kept a designated studio to work in.” 2nd Year Transport Design Student
“Nothing is really provided on this course. You’re forever paying for things if you need it, studio fees takes p*ss because all I feel like I am paying for that is their heating bill.” 1st Year Graphic Design Student “The spending of Studio fees was brought up at the official student meeting and lecturers tried to change the subject.”
“The programs aren’t available on library computers or desktop anywhere.”
2nd Year Design for Industry Student
2nd Year Design for Industry Student
“People have always said that a degree in fashion would be expensive, but the majority of hidden fees are completely unnecessary and could be avoided.”
5.4. Studio Fees Hidden Studio Fees apply exclusively to students studying within the School of Design. Graphic Design students have an expense of £40 per year, Design for Industry students £90 in their first year only, whilst Fashion Marketing students pay £100 for level 4, £100 for level 5 and £20 for level 6. The strength of student opinion about this issue is evident in the range of comments.
1st Year Fashion Marketing Student
5.5. Course Materials A number of students from across the University have reported spending money on course materials (excluding stationery).
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“I thought that the studio fees would cover course materials, obviously not!” 1st Year Design for Industry Student Examples of courses where these costs apply come from all 8 schools and include art materials and specialist printing of display presentations for shows. “We were told that we would be expected to pay 100% tuition fees on our placement year, but we were not informed of the thousands of pounds extra we would have to pay for studio fees or course materials such as fabrics, sewing and pattern cutting equipment, art materials. I think it would be reasonable to inform students how much funding will be necessary to properly commit to this course and if you can’t afford the things you need it will definitely result in lower grades.” 4th Year Fashion Student The median expenditure of students that highlighted this is £100. “I’ve heard from a friend that costs for photography materials are really high. He was told by the Uni to buy a £40 card to get discounts on materials at a particular shop so he bought the card. When he went to buy the materials he found out that that shop didn’t carry half of the materials he needed. This is something the Uni should have investigated before selling the cards. I don’t think he could get his money back and I don’t know how the situation was resolved.” 1st Year Travel and Tourism Student
5.6. Professional Affiliations The starkest and most extreme example of Hidden Professional Fees occur within the School of Law. Depending on the course that students undertake, they can be required to pay £900 for LPC (Legal Practice Course) fees. “You are not told on the law degree before accepting a place at the Univesity about the increase of the extra money you pay a year in year 3 for the BPTC or LPC.” 2nd Year M-Law Student
This cost is then in addition to Solicitors Regulation Authority registration fees that Law students pay. “LPC Fees = £900 per year, even if you don’t go on to do the LPC and not covered by student finance. SRA Registration = £80 Inns Fees = £variable.” 2nd Year M-Law Exempting Student
“On our course we have to pay an additional £900 each year and whilst this is good value for money for the particular course, we don’t actually receive any help with paying those fees and if we want to work to pay those fees then our income from part time jobs would also affect our finance which isn’t fair. The maintenance grant also doesn’t take into account how expensive law textbooks can be.” 2nd Year M-Law Exempting Student
There are some other examples from other schools of
Hidden Fees No Thanks smaller scale expectations surrounding professional body affiliations. Some students within Newcastle Business School, for example, have highlighted CIPD membership as an example of a Hidden Fee.
5.7. Placement Travel The cost of placement travel is highlighted by students from NBS, Life Sciences and School of Design, but by some margin the greatest volume of concerns about this expense are raised with HCES. “One of my placements was well over an hours travel away yet this was apparently acceptable but my petrol costs were obviously very high - this is before buying resources to use in my teaching on placement.” 3rd Year BA Hons Early Primary Education Student According to one student studying OT there is support available for those that need it most: “Most people on my course do get their placement travel paid for, but as it is means tested, I do not so it has to come out of my own pocket leaving me rather skint when I am on placement.” 3rd Year Occupational Therapy Student But another HCES student expresses concern at how this is communicated: “Information on all topics should be given or made easy to access. I did not know that petrol could be refunded with conditions until after my first placement.” 1st Year Nursing Mental Health Student
Page | 7 Two extreme examples of placement travel costs are highlighted by NBS students studying International Business Management who gave £10,000 and £5,000 as the costs of their international placements. We do of course acknowledge though that it is the specific personal choice of these students to take on a placement outside of the EU. Whilst not highlighted specifically as a Hidden Fee and an issue that is slighty separate to this topic, a number of students raised their dissatisfaction with having to pay either full or partial tuition fees during placements. “Not happy paying full tuition fees whilst not at University on placement year.” 2nd Year Fashion Marketing Student The University should give careful consideration to how this information is communicated with students to avoid dissatisfaction and resentment, especially when annual tuition fees are increased. The Students’ Union recognises that placements are a vital aspect of many programmes and should be celebrated for their contribution to academic performance and employability, however the University must consider holistically the financial support available to ensure that students without the financial resources don’t miss out on these outstanding opportunities.
5.8. CRB Checks The two main Schools where CRB checks are highlighted as being a Hidden Fee are Arts and Social Sciences and Health, Community and Education Studies. The mean cost amongst students requiring CRBs was given as £44. It was also a shock for many students, with 71% of those that had to pay, stating they were not expecting to pay for this prior to coming to Northumbria.
Hidden Fees No Thanks One student in particular felt that their CRB was not necessary: “I have never needed the CRB check, I have never been into any primary schools. The CRB was very difficult for me to obtain as I had lived outside of the UK for 10 years.” 3rd Year Performance Student We recognise the fact that the School of Arts and Social Sciences have recently implemented measures to incorporate CRB checks into their modular process, aiming to ensure that only students who will benefit from checks undertake them, however this still highlights University-wide inconsistency when contrasting with HCES, where the majority of CRB checks are funded by the School, but not all.
5.9. Printing Credits Printing credits is another area of Hidden Fees that has been raised previously with Northumbria University. The Students’ Union recognises fully the arguments and counter-arguments that surround printer credits. We understand that to give unlimited free printing to students would be counter to the University’s environmental policy and may encourage unnecessary printing of materials. The topic is highlighted here, simply because it continues to be an issue that a number of students are passionate about. A substantial proportion of students raised this as an area of significant spending, with the mean spend on printing almost £40 per student per year. However, it should be noted that only a third of students claim that this is an unexpected cost and only 25% felt
Page | 8 that it cost more than they anticipated. The increasing expectation on students to print their own notes and materials from the e-learning portal has not gone unnoticed by all students though. “This year we have to print out all of our own copies of the course notes, module assignments, powerpoint presentations, etc, etc when they were given out to use for free last year.” 2nd Year Cert Ed Student (HCES)
5.10. Text Books As indicated previously, the Students’ Union does not automatically include or categorise text book expenditure as a Hidden Fee. It is included within this report for illustrative purposes to highlight some concerns about the ‘overall cost of learning’ and also because whilst we might not, a number of our members do, class books as a Hidden Fee. 84% of students that gave feedback to NSU on Hidden Fees stated that they did expect to pay for text books. However, of those students, over half were surprised at how much they had to pay. On average, amongst students that do buy text books, they are spending £168 per year on them. On other courses, for example some NBS Postgraduate programmes, where core text books are given free, it is valued highly and appreciated by students. But where there is weak communication with students about which text books to buy, it can have the opposite effect.
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“I bought two books. One had nothing to do with oracle sql, even though tutors recommended it. the other book is however more useful, but about 40% of it was any relevence. These books have ripped me off.” 1st Year Web Design and Development Student
“Stopped buying books as I cant afford it.” 4th Year Computer Forensics Student
“Reading lists are fairly extensive, yet there are not enough copies in the library - if they’re on the lists, there should be at least a Reference only in Library.” 3rd Year Early Primary Education Student
The Students’ Union has been an ongoing champion for greater clarity about which texts students are expected to buy and which they are not, and there is clearly further work to be done in this area.
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6. Conclusion Many students at Northumbria Univesity feel that some of the additional costs that they face during their studies are unreasonable and unfair. There is a common perception amongst students that these fees are a covert way of the University supplementing income at a time when tuition fees are capped, despite the fact that many of the things that are paid for are essential parts of their studies. We also believe there is a perception amongst some students that the University is not always transparent in the way it communicates about these Hidden Fees. A quick review of the University’s website or prospectus will reveal only a fraction of the charges discussed in this report. It is often during the induction period or part way through the year that these not insignificant charges are revealed and most critically after the student has enrolled. However, the University’s approach to this in the past is not now important or relevant. What matters the most is the approach it will take in the future. Equality of access should be a high priority for Northumbria University. It is widely anticpated that the Access to Learning Fund will disappear in 2012 and universities will be asked to establish their own hardship funds. Currently a large proportion of funds are paid to final year students for programme-related costs including placements etc. In our opinion, it is surely better for these costs to be included into a fee for which all students can get a loan, rather than establish a hardship fund which then cannot help with extraordinary situations as it is too busy propping up low income students with Hidden Fees.
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Entering a new, uncertain and challenging period for Higher Education, it is more important than ever that the University engages effectively with its students. It is important that it builds a relationship with students based on trust. This requires there are no nasty surprises on cost once a student enrols. Greater transparency and fairness in the charging regime, we believe, will lead to greater student satisfaction. Students are then far more likely to recommend Northumbria to others as an institution based on quality and integrity of brand. When the University inmplements its new fee strategy in 2012, it represents the perfect opportunity to address the serious concerns highlighted in this and bring an end to Hidden Fees at Northumbria University.
7. Proposals This report makes the following recommendations for approval:
7.1. Proposal A It is proposed that the Board of Governors make a minuted statement endorsing the principle of the full and complete removal of Hidden Fees from all Northumbria University courses, to coincide with the introduction of the new tuition fee prices from 2012.
7.2. Proposal B It is proposed that there is a constructive dialogue involving students, the Studentsâ€™ Union and academic colleagues to form concensus and a decision on what will / will not be defined as a Hidden Fee. Any exemptions to what is defined as a Hidden Fee should be reported back to the Board of Governors.
7.3. Proposal C It is proposed that the University further develop this report by conducting and publishing a full, detailed audit of all Hidden Fees. This is to be accompanied by a set of school action plans detailing the process by which the fees will be eliminated. The delivery of these action plans should be monitored by University Learning and Teaching Committee.
7.4. Proposal D It is proposed that the University give further consideration to the way it supports students in the process of purchasing text books. This must be embedded within every academic school and into induction activities, striving to ensure that students are given good advice even before arriving at Northumbria. The Studentsâ€™ Union would also like to see a standard policy across the University, whereby if the total cost of delivery of a specific course accounts for less than 90% of the tuition fee, then core texts are provided free of charge to students.
Hidden Fees No Thanks
A report by Northumbria Students' Union into Hidden Fees within the University.