LUSU President: tuition fee and rent rises ‘unnecessary’

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Photo: Lucy Lamb

The University’s Finance and General Purposes Committee approved the proposal to increase tuition fees by five per cent for postgraduate and international students and introduce a two and a half percent increase in campus rent. Tonight, the issue will be discussed in LUSU’s General Meeting and Wednesday Week 9 will see a protest in Alexandra Square. President Laura Clayson has labelled the fees increase as an “unnecessary rise.” “There’s not enough rationale to do it: it’s all to do with bringing us in line with our main competitor universities and I think that’s completely the wrong reason to raise fees. I believe education should be free so I think fees as a concept is just ridiculous, let alone increasing them.”

In an interview with SCAN, Clayson explained the University’s thinking behind the increase, saying that they believed that when prospective students compare Lancaster’s fees to one of its competitors, and Lancaster are charging less, people are going to think that Lancaster are offering a lower quality degree scheme. However, Clayson said that for the majority of students she knows, who go to university to learn, they wouldn’t be put off by the price.

Clayson first discovered the proposal towards the end of October in a paper that came up in the University Management Advisory Group, where she sits as the only student representative. The proposal had come through from the Target Tuition Fees group which she said is a very small, management based group which she emphasised had no student representative on it.

Clayson said: “obviously, I spoke very vociferously against it”. In particular, Clayson said she spoke out against one of the harsh implications the increase would have on medical students from overseas: “I thought it was very unfair how the international students who were studying medicine here were going to be facing about an 11% increase in fees while they’re on the course… It’s going up from £22,500 a year to £25,000 for continuing students studying medicine.” She said that the University felt that it was unfair to increase the cost by the full amount of money that they want to charge because as of 2015, they’re going to be charging £27,500 for overseas students studying medicine at Lancaster, which Clayson described as “absolutely horrific.”

After the proposal was taken to the Finance and General Purposes Committee it was then discussed at the University Council on Friday Week 7. Clayson and Colin Mang, the two student representatives on the Council, tried to get the decision to go to Senate, so that faculties and departments could have a say. However, the pair were unsuccessful and the proposal was approved.

Explaining the implications of this proposal, Clayson said “For postgraduate students that are from Home-EU background, the fact that they are facing a five per cent increase is massively unfair because it’s already pretty impossible to get postgraduate funding.” She said that the University are looking into bursaries and scholarships, though Clayson describes this as “damage control.”

Regarding international students, Clayson said they might have to rethink coming to Lancaster: “one of the arguments I’ve heard is that the international market is a different market; they’re going to be comparing us against our competitors, and it’s not going to affect them because they’re government sponsored.

“But that’s a lie, because I’ve looked into how many students are sponsored by the government and it’s a very small proportion compared to how many are self-funded.”

In terms of what LUSU are doing to tackle the issue, Clayson said that while she spoke up against the proposal in all of the meetings she was in and sent an email to the Vice Chancellor Mark E Smith, as well as meeting with different people within management, “I haven’t really got anywhere, it’s been quite a disempowering process for me, “she said, “now it’s time to start resisting a bit harder and getting more students in.”

At the General Meeting tonight, this issue will be at the top of the agenda, closely followed by the Cost of Living. Clayson said “we want to hear what students think about this and we really really hope a lot of students come along.” She even hinted at some sort of potential action happening after the meeting itself.

Wednesday Week 9, a national day of student action for Free Education, a protest entitled “NO FEES, NO DEBT: Protest against fees and rent hikes” is set to take place in Alexandra Square at 11.30am. Clayson said: “I’ve been in contact with a lot of other unions as well and a lot of them have been sending a lot of messages of support, solidarity and some of them offered to come up next Wednesday to support us. So it’s a huge huge issue.”

She mentioned that universities like Sussex and Keele had fought for a similar causes last year, but were not successful. However, Clayson is hopeful for change at Lancaster. “I feel like if we really really try and we all come together as a student body then there is strength in numbers and hopefully we can get something from it.”

If students want to really make a difference, Clayson said “I think we should be bombarding the Vice Chancellor with emails stating how much we disagree with this decision, I think we need to make sure we’re supporting each other at the GM and at the protest next Wednesday. There’s a lot of anger and I think we need to harness that and make it into a really strong campaign. As a students’ union we will be supporting students to do that. Together we’re stronger.”

In a statement issued to SCAN this morning, the University said: “Fees for postgraduate and international students are determined by the University to reflect the cost of tuition and to ensure that we can continue to invest in and deliver excellent teaching and learning. Our fees are competitive with those set by our competitors and we invest heavily in scholarships and bursaries to support students. In 2013/14 the University committed £3 million for financial support for undergraduates and £2.3 million for postgraduate students.

“Tuition fee income is re-invested back into projects which benefit students, such as our £135 million capital investment programme which includes significant refurbishment of the library and a number of enhanced teaching facilities. We strongly believe that investing in teaching, research and facilities is in students’ interests since the future value of their degrees is to a large extent dependent on the continued success of the University.”

Regarding rent increases, the University said: “Lancaster University runs its accommodation on a non-profit making basis and rent rises are set according to the forecast national increase in the rate of inflation (RPI). If we are over or under on our forecast an adjustment up or down is made for the following year. Lancaster has won the accolade of ‘Best University Halls’ in the National Student Housing Survey every year for the last five years and this year we were named ‘Best Value for Money.’ We carefully review on an annual basis comparator rents for various levels of quality and facilities of our accommodation and our rents remain highly competitive with that of other universities.”