Is your tuition fee a status symbol?

For those observing the admittedly extraordinary spectacle of tuition fee announcements by English universities, a statement by one university head may have raised eyebrows even more. The Vice-Chancellor of Teesside University, Professor Graham Henderson, in announcing tuition fees of £8,500 (just below the maximum permitted) was reported in the Daily Telegraph as saying that ‘imposing fees “at the bottom of the spectrum” would make undergraduates feel substandard.’

So is this true? Will students conclude that any university charging £7,000 must be nearly 30 per cent worse than all those institutions charging £9,000? Indeed is Professor Henderson suggesting to his undergraduates that their university is just over 5 per cent less good than, say, nearby Newcastle University or Brighton University down south, but 6 per cent or so better than the University of Derby? And more to the point, do students really see it this way? Are Teesside students mightily relieved and pleasantly re-assured that their fees will be £8,500 rather than £6,000?

Professor Henderson is not alone in this view; other university heads have suggested something similar. But this is driving higher education into quite absurd realms, where it is intended to persuade us that students will be influenced positively by high fees. It underscores again the bizarre impact of the new English funding and resourcing framework. The fear must be that English higher education is being seriously compromised by it. Others will hope that this effect can be contained within England.

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7 Comments on “Is your tuition fee a status symbol?”


  1. […] “For those observing the admittedly extraordinary spectacle of tuition fee announcements by English universities, a statement by one university head may have raised eyebrows even more …” (more) […]

  2. jfryar Says:

    Universities request rise in tuition fees.
    Government agrees and sets the limit at £9000.
    Universities decide to charge £9000.
    Government complains and threatens action (by reducing student numbers. And the students will love that!)
    University heads utter silly comments as ‘excuses’.

    Looking forward to how this soap opera ends …

  3. Vincent Says:

    All the same it’s somewhat amusing that the English are paying for the privileges, today.
    But when you think on it. How exactly would you set fees without the accusation of social engineering or worse political bias.

  4. Adam Kerr Says:

    I would much rather see my university become a model of self-sufficiency through commercialisation enabling it to lower its fees. An institution that can action the business and commercial principles it teaches its students suddenly becomes so much more attractive than an institution lost in a world of academia, the latter charging its students extortionate fees only to detach them from the world university is designed to prepare them for.

  5. Dan Says:

    When I read first of Prof Henderson’s argument that in, my paraphrase, “we must charge high fees, or our students will regard Teeside’s undergraduate programme as inferior”, that we what we needed now was a good logician or philosopher – somebody from the much- disregarded humanities – to take that argument apart, assumption by assumption. I mean I can mutter words like sophistry or Jesuitical, but in fact it’s hardly even that elegant an argument? Could somebody do a quick job on this nonsense?

  6. An American Academic Says:

    @Adam Kerr, why do you expect institutions to compete to lower their fees? The experience of America, where elite private institutions can charge what they see fit, suggests that the best institutions charge exorbitant amounts. For example, the private college where I teach has tuition of around $40,000 this year. This is typical of elite institutions in the US. Colleges with prices below this level are assumed to be less prestigious by some prospective students, and accordingly are have lower prestige. When what university you attend is a marker of status, then attending an expensive institution is a matter of conspicuous consumption. I wish it weren’t so, but…

    This article by a former college president lays it out quite nicely: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/education/edlife/edl-17notebook-t.html


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