On a dark day in 2010 the coalition government announced a nearly £6000 hike in tuition fees for undergraduate students. The decision caused thousands of students to take to the streets in protest but with little success. Five years on and I am one of those affected students. I might not see the £9000 loan given to me by the government, but it still hangs over my head.
It’s been especially painful considering that my elder sister (by only 17 months) was paying little more than £3000 a year for her History degree whilst I would be studying the same subject and yet forking out £9000 annually for the privilege.
Yet the unfairness of the nearly £17,000 difference in debt is nothing compared to the greater injustice I discovered between myself and my fellow students.
I am a third year History student at Durham University and have a pathetic six hours of contact time a week – every other week its only five. In fact I study a language module which increases my hours to 5-6 from 4-5.
It’s not just History students who are afforded such a dismal number of teaching hours. My housemate studies Classics and at most she has 6-7 hours a week of contact time.
In contrast, one third year housemate studying Maths has around 16 hours a week, down from 23 in his second whilst another studying Engineering has around 20 hours a week of contact time.
You might think 6 hours a week of classes is a blessing. I have no 9ams and very rarely have to make the journey down to Elvet or into the History department. Indeed, barely a week passes without my more scientific housemates mocking my lazy lifestyle.
Yes, I readily admit there are days when I just can’t be bothered to get out of my pyjamas – but when you don’t have any lessons for three days in a row and are faced with the prospect of reading through a ginormous stack of articles and primary sources, I simply don’t have the motivation to put on a face of make-up and pull on my skinny jeans.
Maybe I am ‘living the life’. I don’t have to pull myself out of bed at 8:30am in the morning to sit through a boring lecture on “mathematical finance” or the “mechanics of dynamic systems”. Yet the alternative to this hell is feeling completely lost amongst a stack of incomprehensible history books with very little direction or help.
The self-discipline required to actually achieve a degree in humanities is unparalleled by the other subjects. I am also always left feeling like I could be doing more work. Gone are the days when you would complete your History homework, check it off in your school diary and then sit down to watch television for the rest of the evening. Instead, I can never shake the lingering feeling that I could have done more. It’s stressful and makes university much less enjoyable as just kicking back and relaxing becomes difficult.
What on earth is that £9000 for? Supposedly to be educated but throughout my second year more often I found myself sitting in my cold student house teaching myself about the events of the past to prepare for an hour long discussion just six times a term.
Whilst my housemates can be safe in the knowledge that their money is being spent on supercomputers, raw materials and teaching hours I am left wondering where that £9000 has disappeared to. It cannot all be spent on new books in the library otherwise I’m sure I would never have had to add myself to a list of reservations already 5 persons long. I can only assume its being used to subsidise those fancy labs and equipment over on the Science Site whilst us humanities students just hope they’ll have remembered to turn on the heating in Elvet this afternoon.
£9000 for my third year roughly works out as £81.81 per hour of teaching whilst a third year maths student is paying just £26.79 per hour and an engineering student pays around £18.63.
If they need more funding for the Calman Learning Centre why not charge those Science students a bit more to fund their own education and cut the humanities students some slack. Lets face it, they’re more likely to gain employment and earn more after university anyway.
That or they could actually provide humanities students with a decent level of teaching time. I’m not asking for 23 hours a week. I understand that the courses are different and lend themselves to different approaches. Just a little more balance would be appreciated.
Teach us more or charge us less.
Special thanks to Miriam Cogni, Charlie Marlow and David Drury for their help compiling some of the facts for this piece.